As traditional retailers up their game against the disruptive digital pure plays, they’re rediscovering an essential attribute: their purpose. It’s this which ultimately differentiates how they offer, how they sell and how they operate. And the most successful are blending their core purpose with advanced digital technologies to maximize operational efficiency and experiment with new forms of in-store engagement. It’s all about taking the best of the digital and the best of the physical to forge stronger, more powerful connections with customers — and making a clear declaration of who they are and what they are here to do.
These ideas are at the heart of this year’s Accenture Technology Vision, which identifies a series of current technology trends with critical implications for retailers today. Here’s how retail leaders are using technology and purpose to regain the advantage in the digital economy.
Stores Fight Back
The number of brick-and-mortar retail stores may be falling, but thanks to increasing connectivity and digitization, they’re becoming far more impactful at the same time. This reflects two key trends from the Technology Vision: Extended Reality (using immersive experience to bring customers closer to the brand) and Internet of Thinking (bringing intelligent environments to life using connectivity, robotics and AI). In the digital world consumers now live in, we are seeing their expectations between “brick & click” continue to blur, and the stores of tomorrow will need to reflect this.
We see it in the “magic mirrors” at Tommy Hilfiger’s London store. We see it in Gap’s digital dressing room, allowing customers to ‘try on’ clothes through their smartphones. It’s also there in the digital shelf edges offering dynamic and engaging messages to shoppers, and in the video analytics used to better understand in-store shopping and promotion targeting.
It’s about taking the in-store customer experience to a new level. Smarter checkouts, like those at Zara’s flagship Madrid store and Rebecca Minkoff’s New York store, let customers check out digitally, regardless of the cost of purchase. And in China, Alibaba-developed technology even lets KFC customers pay using facial recognition.
The blurring line between digital and physical calls for new kinds of commerce architectures. For high-value, low-volume retailers, it likely means pre-integrated SaaS models. For lower-value, high-volume retailers, it means a “headless” architecture, built like a platform, and using open-source solutions widely, to address ubiquitous commerce.
Why? Because POS is rapidly becoming “point of service,” where every touch point is tightly integrated across shopping carts, transactions, history and returns, and where AI is used to crunch the vast amounts of data needed to make it happen. We can see it already in high-end retail: sales associates at Neiman Marcus now have AI-powered devices extending their personal knowledge of customers beyond a level that any human could possibly manage.
Of course, this use of data-driven technology to personalize experiences must be handled sensitively. There’s a fine line between smart and fun and intrusive and creepy. Indeed, this is a theme reflected in another 2018 Technology Vision trend — Citizen AI — using AI as a responsible member of the team, and of society.
The Frictionless Business
Every company is now a tech company, and nowhere more so than in retail. The impact: Retailers’ IT must be reorganized accordingly. That means incorporating agile methodologies at scale (e.g. SAFe), developing multi-modal IT that can run at different speeds, and making full use of DevOps and the cloud.
These shifts will help retailers refocus on delivering “solutions” via their products, perhaps using common platforms that others have developed. It’s part of another 2018 trend —Frictionless Business — or finding new growth through tech-driven partnerships. But replacing long-standing wholesale models will require taking some radical steps away from legacy technologies: creating flexible and responsive integration through the adoption of serverless computing and microservices, for example.
Internet Of Thinking
As those partnerships extend the boundaries of retailers’ ecosystems, new connected capabilities will be uncovered. That’s going to be a key to customer experience in the future.
Achieving these kinds of ecosystem-powered results calls for a new approach to protecting and sharing information. Without the scale of an Alibaba or an Amazon, retailers will need to team up with partners by creating exposable services, data and assets. It’s all part of another vital 2018 trend — the Internet of Thinking — in which robotics, immersive reality, AI and connected devices bring new levels of technological sophistication to the shopping experience.
Making The Connections Count
As technology extends ever deeper into everyday lives, retailers are finding they can create more meaningful connections with the people who buy and use their products and services. But making those connections count relies on using technology in a smart — and responsible — way. Equally, it relies on creating new affiliations with businesses across industries to invent new products and services that meet the ambitions of customers and employees. Ultimately, that’s how retailers regain the advantage in the competitive digital economy — and give customers not simply what they want, but what they desire.
Vish Ganapathy is a Managing Director and Retail Technology Leader globally for Accenture Consulting. In this role, Ganapathy is focused on technology and innovation solutions serving the retail industry. Prior to joining Accenture, he led the Tech & Data Strategy practice and served as the CTO for Retail and Consumer Goods industries for IBM Corp.