The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the many issues affecting brick-and-mortar stores: retailers large and small closed a record-breaking 12,200 stores in the U.S. in 2020. But not everybody lost. The clear winners in retail were organizations that had invested in new ways to interact with their customers, finding new ways to personalize the shopper’s experience across every touch point.
In spite of the convenience of online, consumers still enjoy the in-store shopping experience, and companies like Target, whose in-store sales grew by 22.9% percent in Q1 compared to the same time last year, have been able to leverage technology to continue growing.
Innovations in data collection and technology are allowing businesses to rethink and redesign the in-person shopping experience. Retailers are looking for new ways to connect with their customers and to become more agile and nuanced in how they communicate. An omnichannel approach to shopping is becoming the standard.
As a result, the customer journey is in the midst of a complete overhaul. As consumers become accustomed to the personalization and convenience of online shopping, brick-and-mortar stores are starting to employ more and more technological solutions to provide the same level of service in person as can be found online.
Boosting Lifetime Value with Data
A big shift is underway from retailers relying on purchasing third-party data about their customers to using first-party data collected from their own apps and systems. It is becoming less and less common for retailers to be able to purchase this data as regulations tighten worldwide, so there is a push toward collecting this data themselves.
Gathering data from sources like social media habits, web browsing history and direct interactions with the store has little value on its own. However, when a retailer overlays these data points. it provides context and insights that help them to tailor a more personal experience for their shoppers. Companies are increasingly encouraging customers to use their apps to provide new shopping features like augmented reality (AR) into the in-store experience, and these can be a great way to collect new data points and better understand consumer habits.
Take for example a granola bar. A customer can see the product, scan it on their phone to see ingredients, learn more about the company, get recommendations for similar products that they might like, and even be directed to new products in the store. Now the retailer sees not just what the customer ended up purchasing, but what they looked at along the way and, in part, how they arrived at their final decision on what to buy. All of this data can then be saved and used by the retailer to better understand and contextualize that person’s needs and help guide them to make more informed purchases.
All of this technology allows businesses to be more agile and adaptive to problems that may arise from future pandemics or supply chain issues. But managing this technology and data requires more robust systems than many retailers have in place. Even stores that have upgraded to cloud-based services will find that real-time interaction with customers requires lightning-fast connectivity and the ability to share lots of data quickly.
While customers may enjoy the benefits of a technologically upgraded shopping experience, any lag time or break in connectivity risks losing a customer to a competitor whose platform works seamlessly. Collecting, processing and hosting this data is key to the level of personalization a brand can provide, and requires a way to keep everything running smoothly.
Enter Edge Computing
Edge computing is a system whereby data generated from a customer in-store is kept and processed on site rather than sent to the cloud. By bringing a retailer’s computing power as close to the data as possible, retailers can perform complex calculations to learn about customers in real time, while they are shopping in-store, and make recommendations that are tailored to them in real time.
There is a tremendous amount of bandwidth used to collect the data, create an actionable profile of the customer and create a real-time personalized experience for them, but there is no need to send all of the raw data to the cloud. Raw data like IoT and sensor data serves no purpose in the cloud. To maximize the use of resources all of that data can be processed on-site while the cloud can be reserved for business-relevant data.
Edge computing doesn’t displace the cloud; rather, it enables greater functionality by establishing an architecture of technology that can streamline the shopping experience in new ways. When properly applied, businesses will have an unparalleled ability to personalize their shopper’s experience while also being able to collect and process data in unprecedented ways.
The move toward greater personalization in retail is guided by data and technology. More and more, having real-time ways of collecting, analyzing and utilizing large amounts of data will help retailers develop one-on-one relationships with their customers, which will make the shopping experience better for everyone.
In order for this to work, large amounts of information need to be sent quickly and seamlessly to stores and shoppers alike. Integrating edge computing is a key component to this. While the pandemic may have forced massive closures, many stores are still standing. Retailers that are able to most effectively leverage technology to help their customers and create agile new ways of selling their goods are the ones who survive.
Gerard Miller is the COO and CFO of Hivecell, a complete edge-as-a-service provider. Hivecell takes the cloud beyond the invisible boundary of the data center to the edge, providing access to and management of computing for applications, customers and locations that, until now, had no viable solution.