Today’s digital-centric consumer expects seamless experiences with retailers when they interact online or in person. They prefer to have their own online account, accessible via browser or mobile app, so the retailer knows exactly who they are and their purchase history. They want to be able to opt into reward, rebate, and coupon programs, and they expect accurate and timely information at their fingertips concerning in-store inventory and availability (I call this the “liquidation of demand”). The consumer expects all retailers to adopt the digital connectivity of others—that is, they expect all interactions to be the same as Uber or Starbucks.
At the same time, the digital-centric consumer is concerned about their privacy, and needs to be reassured that entrusting their personal data to retailers comes with no threat to their online security and is only for the purpose of improving their overall experience.
Collecting relevant data is essential for constructing the type of shopping experience that consumers expect. But gathering data alone has no value to the innovative retailer seeking to improve outcomes for the digital-centric consumer. Rather, it is the triangulation of telemetry data and application of that data that produces descriptive insights and drives continuous consumer experience improvement.
Here are four steps required for satisfying today’s digital-centric consumer.
STEP 1: INVEST IN CONNECTIVITY
For retailers, continuous improvement starts with investment in connected technology at the operations level and moves from there to the front-end digital experience for consumers. The art of connecting your store, your people, and your assets serves as the foundation for digital transformation.
This is best understood as a physical-digital-physical optimization loop. The connected store employs all types of sensing technology—RFID, computer vision, and other sensing tools. This technology senses and records the state of the physical world around it—temperature, humidity, oxygen, CO2, current, acceleration, traffic, and other critical measurements. What occurs in the physical world gets recorded in the digital world.
But what is done with the data? With the right application, the data can be used to generate positive confirmation for operators who can then take the prescriptive insights and go back to the physical world to make changes and direct actions that improve real-world outcomes.
Retailers must invest in the base infrastructure that follows this physical-digital-physical cycle to create the groundwork that will support digital optimization closer to the consumer.
STEP 2: OPTIMIZE DIGITAL EXPERIENCES FOR EMPLOYEES
The next step is to implement processes for in-store employees that leverage the insights and efficiencies brought about by increased connectivity in the physical-digital-physical framework.
When the physical equipment in your store is connected, your employees are not burdened with manual sensing tasks. When your workflows are more intelligent, automatic, and prescriptive, the manual tasks that employees do perform are more productive, timely, and decisive. These digital capabilities free up time for employees to better serve their customers. Their labor hours can be redirected toward improving inventory management, enhancing in-store merchandising, or speeding up wait times at service counters.
Prescriptive analytical platforms can also provide training on-demand, which makes onboarding new employees a more efficient process. Given the current employee attrition rates, the ability to train new employees faster is more essential than ever. A digital-centric customer doesn’t only shop online; when they enter your brick-and-mortar store, they expect exceptional, personalized service. Innovative retailers are equipping their employees with digital tools that free up their time and help them boost consumer satisfaction.
STEP 3: ENABLE DATA & INSIGHT SHARING ACROSS THE ENTERPRISE
As you adopt connected technology throughout your retail enterprise, you will recognize the need to integrate the various solutions you employ if you are going to unlock the full value potential.
Sharing data and insights across the enterprise is essential for cross-departmental collaboration and communication. Retailers should embrace open, interoperable systems that speak to one another in ways that are compatible. A walled-garden approach to data collection and insight production will cut off the possibilities for different functions within the enterprise to benefit from the data that each one collects—both at the director and executive levels and for in-store management.
STEP 4: LEVERAGE CONNECTIVITY FOR INNOVATION THAT SATISFIES CONSUMER PREFERENCES
Once the richness of your data is being expressed through increased connectivity, improved employee efficiency, and better enterprise visibility, you can leverage your advancements to develop innovation that serves consumer preferences. Retailers have the opportunity to improve their inventory management, quality assurance, food safety, and home delivery programs. You can apply the speed and insight generated from your innovations to create programs and benefits that match the preferences of digital-centric consumers.
The seamless experiences that digital-centric consumers expect are made possible by the digital infrastructure that they never see. Connected stores are built on a foundation of technology that optimizes everything from production, to supply chain management, to in-store quality control. There is a clear roadmap for retailers to embrace connected technology in a way that supports demand from digital-centric consumers. Those that embrace innovation will see the difference that it makes.