At the National Retail Foundation 2018 trade event, more than 37,000 retailers came to see how digital transformation will take center stage this year. From retailers becoming innovators, to the IoT streamlining a customer’s shopping experience, the focus this year was solving business problems in the retail industry, not just implementing shiny new tech.
Let’s recap the top digital transformation trends seen on the floor this year at the NRF 2018 and how they may affect your business.
Retailers Are Becoming Tech Companies
Retailers are not simply retailers anymore. In fact, they are becoming innovators and the thinktanks behind new products. 2017 was a huge year for retailers like Amazon and Wal-Mart. Both made huge strides in automation, virtual reality, robotics, and using the IoT. They’ve clearly embraced the digital transformation and NRF showed that other retailers are ready to embrace it too.
Amazon finally opened the much anticipated Amazon Go in January, where customers just walk in and get what they want and walk out without having to stop and pay a cashier. I, for one, can’t wait till this technology reaches other retailers. Imagine how much faster a trip to the grocery store would be.
Wal-Mart is expanding its e-commerce footprint and continually using its “Store No 8” or its technology incubation center to test out new tech that could be scalable in the next five years. With its recent acquisition of e-commerce store Jet.com, Wal-Mart is innovating day and night to change the customer experience for the better. “Whether it’s using VR and AR for associate training, automating the supply chain or using robotics in-store, Walmart and Jet.com continually work to save customers time and money.”
Tony D’onofrio, retail visionary, asks the question: “How long will it be before in addition to selling consumer products, they will be selling technology to other retailers?” From the takeaway of this year’s NRF, the answer may not be too far in the future.
Tech as Problem-Solver
Vice President of CGI, Jean-Baptiste Branquart told panel attendees this year, “Customers around the world desire “a seamless experience” and expect to be able to use whatever retail channel they want, when they want to. Above all, retailers must compete on price and offer value to customers.” Offering value means utilizing technology that solves business processes, instead of tech that simply makes things look futuristic.
By breaking down barriers between tech and the business side of things, your customer can be moved towards an omnichannel experience. Technology should be used to bridge the gap between business matters that are affecting customer experience and the solution. And not only should technology be used for the customer’s experience, but it can also be used to improve employee satisfaction, which is directly linked to customer satisfaction.
Mobile Is Expanding
Could it possibly expand even further than it has already? You better believe it. Mobile applications and mobile pay is creating a dim future for large POS systems for retailers. However, mobile is expanding into greater territory, using innovative and personal ways to pay. In fact, Visa’s ad campaign for the Winter Olympics is centered around using the athlete’s Olympic pin to complete transactions.
To keep up with the customers’ demand for an easier way to pay every single day, retailers are finding themselves in innovation mode, attempting to take mobile to the next level even now.
Personalization is Key
Retailers are now hyper-focused on personalization for the customer and their shopping experience. The push now is to connect retailers with their customers in a more personal way. By using technology such as mobile apps, chat tools, and website pages, retailers can create a more convenient and personalized shopping experience for each consumer that visits, not just consumers that make a purchase.
At this year’s trade event, Neiman Marcus Group CEO Karen Katz stated, “In 2018, great customer experiences “will come from blending technology with a more personalized touch. I think the people that can combine technology-powered personalization with a human will be the winners.”
Turning Towards AI
Personalization is taken to new heights by using AI to create a shopping experience using analytics and optimized inventory for each consumer. Beyond the e-commerce shopping site, AI is also being used throughout retail companies in both their call centers and customer service departments.
AI is making it easier to answer consumer questions by using chat-bots and other personalized tech that would otherwise cost the company large sums of cash for the same outcome. Retailers are also expected to use AI on the backend of their enterprise, by using data analytics to help replenish inventory and learn which products sell faster than others. The key? Finding a way to implement AI to solve a true problem and dedicate IT systems to capturing and analyzing the data you will receive from AI technology.
During my time on the floor at NRF, I had the chance to speak to a number of thought leaders from various technology companies helping to power the future of retail. In a conversation with SAS Retail Practice Director, Dan Mitchell, I asked him for his take on the retail movement to AI. He shared a great point which validates the aforementioned importance of proper data collection, management and analysis, “Many retailers are rushing toward AI solutions to fine tune assortments to local trade areas and optimize cross-channel inventory flow. As retailers look toward adopting AI and Machine Learning, they must put nimble data management technology in place to ingest and feed information to data-hungry analytics. An enterprise’s ability to innovate will be wholly governed by the volume at which it can process fast-moving data.”
Voice Assistants Will Help Customers
Taking AI one step further, voice assistants will be used to help customers while visiting brick and mortar establishments as well as in the home. Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are already used for simple tasks; however, they will be used for customers to order items such as consumables right from their living room couch.
CEO of 1-800-Flowers, Chis McCann believes that voice is an integral part of the consumer to store relationship. “Voice enables us to have a one-to-one relationship with customers on a massive scale.”
Voice assistants may find themselves in stores, making it possible for customers to ask for more information about a product or ask for a different size in clothing for them to try while in their dressing room.
IoT and Streamlining Shopping
The Internet of Things is set to streamline shopping this year. Retailers are looking to achieve the goal of one-click checkout to create a quick and seamless process for customers. This tech will combine the use of radio frequency ID tags with POS systems and connected sensors to make shopping almost instantaneous.
The IoT will also help retailers find new solutions for inventory management to help solve problems within loss prevention.
This year’s trade show was filled to the brim with customer-facing technology that will create personalized and fast shopping experiences for consumers while creating problem-solving tools for the backend of enterprise. As retailers begin to focus on customer experience more than ever, technology is set to become a thought-leader in innovation and customer satisfaction.
Check out Top 5 Retail Security Considerations to Protect In-Flight Data from Susan McReynolds, CenturyLink Segment Manager, for info on how you can protect your in-flight customer and critical company information.