5 Years of Tech Innovation Later, Retail IT Turns to Optimizing Operations for Better CX
Much of retail strategy has been locked in on improving customer experience with customer-facing tech innovations. This year, retailers are improving customer experience from the inside out, starting with their retail operations.
Retailers are Still Catching Up to Trends from 5 Years Ago
For the past half-decade technologies at NRF’s Big Show focused on improving customer experience with tools like in-store mobile and trends like omnichannel and its latest evolution, unified commerce. Technology trends keep evolving to address retail challenges, with more complex solutions debuting every year. Exhibitors at this year’s NRF technology expo made admirable attempts at showing retailers how AI and virtual reality can augment the store experience today.
It’s true that some retailers, notably Rebecca Minkoff and Amazon’s strategic dabble in brick and mortar, are experimenting with headline-landing technologies: a luxury spin on RFID-driven self-checkout for the fashion brand and just-walk-out convenience for members at Amazon Go.
But even these innovations are reflective of the same core concept pulsing at the heart of retail this year: optimizing operations for greater efficiency (which leads to a better customer experience).
In reality, most retailers are still trying to catch up to trends set at NRF – tying together disparate data sources, gaining more visibility in their operations, and applying that understanding to improve their processes.
Retail just doesn’t evolve as fast as technology.
But each small step taken toward building a strategy on modern technology is an objective gain for both cost-saving efficiency in the business and customer experience.
The Best Customer Experience Resource for Retail this Year: Your IT Team
When we think customer experience, we picture the actual interaction in stores. But so much has to go right behind the scenes before a retail associate can actually give customers the personalized attention they want!
And wrangling the tangled web of retail technologies is no easy task, so retailers’ IT teams are hands down the most valuable CX resource.
Let’s be honest – the plethora of tech options out there in the wild helping retailers improve customer experience have left retail IT teams mopping up after the tech revolution. But the turn to optimizing operations will actually help CX. Enterprise retail on the backend is addressing security concerns and integrating data and technologies to create memorable retail experiences.
Customers Appreciate When You Keep Their Credit Card Data Secure
Much of a customer’s experience with a retailer is taken for granted and is only missed when it’s compromised – like credit card security. 2016 saw an alarming number of POS data vulnerability in large retail and technology companies, including giants like Target and Oracle.
Retailers are always playing the defensive game here and the technology decisions retail IT teams make can help fortify retail data against cyber terrorists.
Some POS software is more effective at lifting the PCI compliance burden for retailers. Using out-of-scope POS and retail management software like Retail Pro – meaning, the software never touches credit card data – together with integrated payments can reduce retailer liability and keeps customer data safe.
Customers Just Want to Believe You are One Unified Brand (Not a Disparate Retail, Outlet, and eCom Retailer)
Serial shoppers often will frequent each of a retailer’s channels, scouting for the prettiest or most convenient option for the best price and experience. They expect to see a retailer’s inventory online so they can plan purchases around their schedule, and they are frustrated beyond measure when faced with retailers’ channel limitations – like store associates refusing to accept returns of ill-fitting online purchases because they can’t look up the online transaction, for example.
Retail IT teams inherited the challenge of integrating product and shopper data between POS and eCommerce. The ability to lookup inventory availability improves customer experience and comes from a unified data source on the backend.
Helpfully for retailers, this also connects data between shoppers’ research-related activities on the retailer’s website and actual conversion. Having visibility into integrated data gives greater insight to optimize bottlenecks and improve the sales process, especially in stores.
Customers Like Using Mobile and Wish You Would Too
Customers have been using mobile in stores since the first iPhone. Retailers, however, have been slow to reciprocate with mobile software, and are losing opportunities to personalize the customer experience with real interaction.
Mobile as a retail trend will soon reach prehistoric status, yet it’s only just beginning to inch its way out of the back office to be used as a customer-facing tool for engagement on the sales floor. Part of the reason is the added IT complexity of configuring and managing multiple devices. But part of the pitfall is simply that retailers have not yet formed a clear strategy for how they will use mobile in their stores.
As retailers are adopting modern POS to replace or augment legacy systems, software with device agnostic flexibility is becoming top choice. Consistent software between fixed and mobile POS decreases employee learning curve, thereby increasing probability of adoption and actual use.
Mobile and omnichannel and integrated payments have been trends long discussed at NRF. This year, as retailers turn their focus inward toward internal, structural evolution and evolving their process and procedures, these trends are actually (finally) being reality.