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Friction Is Your Retail Enemy

  • Written by  David Dorf, Infor

0aaDavid Dorf InforNetflix did not kill Blockbuster. It is true that Blockbuster would have survived longer had Netflix not come along, but then some other business like RedBox would have pushed them out. Rather, what killed Blockbuster was friction. In this instance, friction comes in the form of having to drive to the store, hope the movie you wanted was in stock, and often, pay late and/or rewind fees — thinking back, it was quite the hassle.

Customers do not want friction; they want smooth, seamless and painless experiences. Take the example of the cab. For a traditional taxi, customers must stand on a street corner to flag down the vehicle, call the dispatcher and wonder when the taxi will show up, and at the end of the ride, search for correct change to pay the driver. Uber found ways to remove each of these points of friction from that experience, and from that, created a company worth $72 billion.

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That is not news to retailers, who have been feeling the pressure from new market entrants ever since e-Commerce went mainstream. It seems the notion of the “retail apocalypse” is finally losing steam as people start to get beyond the hype and focus on the hard facts.

Amazon is not killing the retail industry — poor customer experience is. It might have once been reasonable to drive to the nearest Sam Goody and buy a C.D. to hear your favorite song over and over, but today, that scenario is fraught with friction. It is easier to just fire up iTunes or Spotify on your connected computer, tablet or mobile device. Customer expectations have changed, and Sam Goody did not.

So, what can retailers do to minimize friction and ensure a seamless customer experience? The key lies in prioritizing the consumer through the adoption and implementation of the right technologies, including:

Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI is integral for creating personalized, customer-centric shopping experiences. By collecting and compiling important consumer data in real-time, AI draws insights from customer preferences and purchase history, which can then be used to offer specialized recommendations geared specifically toward individuals’ unique wants and needs.

For example, DSW recently implemented an AI-based marketing software to gather data at important customer touchpoints, and then offer more personalized recommendations. By doing so, they are marketing directly to individual consumers, bringing suggested products or purchases right to their inboxes. This removes the need to browse the inventory, and therefore, eliminates a key point of friction.

Cloud: Today’s consumers shop where they want, when they want to, and how they want. This can translate into multiple purchasing scenarios, such as ordering online and picking up in store, trying on a garment while on vacation and then purchasing at their local shop when returning home, or even buying the initial purchase at a shop and returning via web channels. The current retail landscape allows for numerous entry points for the customer — and it can be hard to keep track of consumer and inventory data. That is why adopting cloud-technology is so vital.

Stores with multiple locations, whether brick and mortar and/or online, must ensure that data can be streamlined across the board. Cloud technology allows for consistent and automatic updates across channels, connecting disparate points together to ensure seamless integration of information. With this capability, every store location — no matter location, size or medium - can feel like the customer’s local shop.

Supply Chain: 80% of consumers want the option of same day shipping — a feat impossible for a retailer to achieve without the right software in place. To achieve seamless experiences, companies must adopt a supply chain management software that allows for complete end-to-end visibility throughout the entire supply chain life cycle.

Take, for example, Zumiez, which is channeling the needs of today’s omnichannel consumer by increasing in-store fulfillment to cut both delivery cost and time. By cutting out the middleman with a strong supply chain management system, Zumiez demonstrates its understand of the modern-day consumer — and is adapting delivery strategies as such.

Customers, like water, take the shortest path with the least resistance, and the key to decreasing resistance is through the right technologies. By keeping the customer at the center, adopting digital advancements will be a natural progression of internal strategy. The retailers that embrace this notion will not only survive, but also thrive regardless of what Amazon does.


David Dorf is VP of Product Strategy at Infor  where he focuses on customer experience for various industries. Before joining Infor, he handled product strategy at Oracle Retail and held several positions at 360Commerce, Circuit City, AMF Bowling, and Schlumberger’s Retail & Banking division developing retail systems using various technologies. Dorf is a NRF-ARTS board member and has chaired several work teams including the NRF Mobile Blueprint for Retail and the ARTS Social Retailing whitepaper.  He holds degrees from Virginia Tech and Penn State.

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