Retail has always been a difficult business, with customers quick to vote with their feet. Retailers are always looking for innovation to help improve their business outlook and customer experience.
In this blog, I'll provide a summary of some of the top challenges that retailers face - and how technology can assist in delivering better outcomes.
While this blog is titled the Top 5 Retail Challenges, you could more optimistically refer to this as the Top 5 Retail Opportunities. Retail requires constant reinvention to keep customers engaged, supply chains short and ensure value is delivered to both the customer and the retailer alike.
As a retailer, how do you know what your customer likes and what they don't? The amount of stock of an item you sell is a pretty good indicator of course, but do you have more detail than this.
Some common questions are:
- How do customers move through your store
- Where do they pause longest and which items are in those areas
- Are there any 'high value' locations where people linger
- What sort of customer loyalty do you have
- How happy are customers when they visit your store
These are the basics for a retailer to help understand the customer journey. st
Technology helps in a lot of ways here. Here's a quick summary list of some ideas:
- Smartphone App: A smartphone app offers you the ability to offer in store experience on a smartphone, as well as push details of specials to the app when customers are in store
- Guest Wi-Fi: Offers convenience, but also information on your visitors. Login with facebook for example and you can track some key demographics
- OpenRoaming: Uplift from base Guest Wi-Fi to deliver seamless phone-like roaming - and importantly - a user base that shows return visits
- Cameras and Analytics: Cameras can use AI to use facial recognition, which is key to understanding repeat visits, but can also extend to understanding the number of your customers that are happy, angry, sad, etc. It's not perfect, but offers a wealth of insights beyond just people counting
- Wi-Fi Analytics: Wi-Fi Analytics (such as DNA Spaces) allows you to have heatmaps showing where the density of customers are, where they linger and so on
The point of analytics is simple: Use information to improve the customer experience in your store.
2. Customer EngagementCustomers have been drawn away from retail stores for a number of reasons:
- Ease of Use: Browsing an internet store is quicker and easier than a bricks and mortar store
- Price Comparison: It's very easy on the internet to price compare an item
- Speed: If you've ever spent time walking around a store looking for a specific item, it can be a slow experience - if you just want to buy what you need, an online store can be a lot quicker
- Research: A lot of customers like to research the item they're buying - there are many online review sites offering customer reviews on every conceivable product
- Convenience: Being able to shop 24x7, in your lunch hour or whenever you like makes it a lot easier to shop online. The convenience of home delivery makes the purchase of many items easy for consumers
Apple has done this brilliantly. Brightly lit stores and enticing merchandise all delivered in a typically architecturally beautiful store location. The reason these work well is the multi-service aspect.
Customers can drop in for technical support, or to touch, feel and play with the latest technology. It's multi-sensory.
Staff use their own technology to take your order and it's done standing with you, while looking at the goods.
3. Loss Prevention
Every retailer loses stock, whether it's because the goods are damaged, mislabelled or are perishable.
Theft though is an avoidable type of loss and one which is a real challenge for many retailers.
The common approach is banks of cameras, with operators trained to look for suspicious behaviour, backed up by instore staff who are trained to speak to customers with integrity, while challenging those they believe may have stolen goods from the store.
Electronic tags of various descriptions are common too.
The technology improvement here has to be with the use of machine learning and AI.
We already have systems which can use facial recognition to determine if customers are repeat visitors (great for Analytics), but also to easily track all the locations that person has been (great for COVID tracking).
This is of great assistance in determining if someone has been stealing stock on a regular basis and where they might have been, along with determining if there are any accomplices. Loss Prevention is not a fun topic, but one which unfairly targets retailers and the more discrete the technology can be, the better for all concerned.
4. Supply Chain Automation
Automation in the supply chain allows for efficiency. Large warehouses process a lot of stock, but the key aim is to shorten the supply chain and moves goods from the source to the customer as soon as possible.
Voice pick devices as well as wireless bar code scanners allow warehouse staff to be mobile - and so increase their efficiency, but there's a limit to the amount of stock that can be picked.
Automation in warehouses is taking the supply chain by storm. Wi-Fi based robots are used to pick stock and this allows the efficiency - and speed of stock rotation - to exponentially increase.
The robots are of course expensive to commission, but thereafter offer 24*7 stock picking with accuracy and speed. The warehouse though needs to be built specifically with the aim of automation in mind.
At IPTel we supply and integrate a lot of wireless networks for our customers. I'd be remiss not to have some analysis of how Wi-Fi has changed from a nice-to-have to a must-have.
First up though, a quick check in on how your wireless looks. Many retailers have installed a best-effort grade of Wi-Fi. Access Points (APs) are dotted throughout the retail store, but the quality of coverage they deliver- and the point of installing them in the first place - is quite unclear.
The first point when discussing retail Wi-Fi is why would you want to spend more money on increasing the density of APs and providing a more universal Wi-Fi experience.
Wi-Fi is a great enabler - some of the key items are:
- Guest Wi-Fi: Allow customers to connect to your Wi-Fi to offer convenience
- OpenRoaming: Mobile phone-like roaming for Wi-Fi - uplift to standard Guest Wi-Fi
- IoT Sensors: Measure and monitor your fridges (if your a food retailer), air con, door ajar, etc
- Staff Mobility: Give staff smartphones for Wi-Fi calling, stock checking and bar code scanning
Top 5 Retail Challenges: Summary
Retail is a difficult business, but innovation and use of technology helps attract and retain customers.
If you're a high end retailer like Apple, you have technology built into every aspect of the customer journey, but the same is true for supermarkets and other retail stores.
One key thing is obvious: staff are becoming more enabled with technology they carry. This in turn allows them to be more efficient and spend more time on front end customer interactions - which allows the customer experience in the store to the the focus.
Retailers also need to be a lot more agile than they used to be, from automated shelf labelling, through to guest Wi-Fi and smartphone apps. Retailers need to respond quickly to a changing environment and customer expectation, all the while trying to lower costs and improve profit margins.
Hopefully this run through has been of use. We deliver many of the technologies discussed in this blog, feel free to drop us a line, if we can help at firstname.lastname@example.org