Guest Blog: Melanie Humphries on using the right retail technology
Melanie Humphries, regional sales director retail for CenturyLink EMEA, takes a look at retail tech and data to show how you can keep up with the changing digital landscape, both online and on the high street…
A quarter of all non-food sales in the UK during the three months spanning from October 2016 to January 2017 were made online, clear evidence of just how important it is for retailers to ensure that their online presence is maintained to the same standard as their high street stores.
With the right technology in place, retailers can react to their customers’ demands at a speed never before possible, and provide them with what they want, when they want it, via the channel of their choice.
However, it’s important that they don’t rush into technology investments just to appear especially innovative. By diving in and spending vast amounts on technology that their infrastructure are unable to support, retailers risk slowing the customer’s path to purchase which, of course, can have a detrimental effect on sales.
On the flip side, erring too far on the side of caution can also prove problematic. These retailers can quickly find themselves relegated to playing catch-up more agile competitors due to missed sales opportunities.
Decision makers should start by asking themselves what business goals they’re aiming to achieve, and work back from there, to ensure any technology purchase will help them meet these objectives. Essentially, the purpose of any back-end technology should be to enhance the online experience of a retailer’s existing and potential customers.
Best use of data
Last year, luxury fashion house Burberry live-streamed its catwalk show, during which viewers were able to click on, and instantly purchase, the items that took their fancy, rather than waiting months for the collection to arrive in store.
While Burberry may be a high-end brand, with a budget to match, this serves as a good example to high street retailers of how back-end technology can be used to manage customer data to provide relevant, up-to-date product information, rather than bombarding customers with ads.
There’s a tendency for retailers to think that the only use of such data is to target shoppers, thus driving them to purchase products from their online and high street stores. There are, however, many other ways that this data can be used to drive valuable interactions with customers.
A customer may look at a lampshade online, for example, only for it to appear on every site they visit for days afterwards. While there’s nothing wrong with this kind of targeted advertising that reminds customers of something they might want to buy, retailers should do more than follow potential purchasers around with a generic ad. More creative thinking is required if they are to stay ahead of the curve.
Some retailers, for example, will track when a customer looks at a particular dress and every targeted ad it delivers thereafter will include additional information, such as how many of them are left in stock. Ads such as these serve to educate them, providing them with useful information and ultimately a more positive experience with the retailer.
Effective use of data isn’t just limited to targeted ads though. Many retailers employ pricing strategies that determine when products should be lowered in price, although these tend to apply to whole product lines rather than individual items. As a result, it isn’t possible to apply different pricing strategies to high-performing items in a low performing line. Should a certain product perform particularly well, the retailer could miss out on revenue by prematurely reducing its price.
Monitoring sales data means that retailers can manage sales patterns on a product-by-product basis, ensuring maximum revenue potential for every product.
Improving the retail experience isn’t only about investing in the latest technology. It’s also important to build knowledge and share it across the wider business, to prevent its various departments from operating in silos.
If, for example, the marketing team launches a promotion, it’s essential that the digital team makes the corresponding user experience as smooth as possible, and that the IT department ensures that the network and supply chain technology is able to accommodate surge in web traffic and a rush of transactions, respectively.
As retailers undergo the digital transformation required to provide value across the business, it’s important for these core teams to collaborate, working with third party consultants who can fill in any knowledge gaps around the new technology.
Then, it’s important that all employees – from the board to the shop floor – are fully aware of how to use the new technology, and the reasons for doing so.
The digital landscape is changing fast, and customer demands and shopping habits are changing with it. It’s crucial, therefore, that retailers implement and leverage digital transformation and take action on their customer data so they can keep up with this change, online and off, now and in the future.