Retail is all about the value and its perceptions

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Customers are the king and queen in retail and they are valuable to the business. On the flip-side, customers are also seeking value in what is being offered to them. Retail brands across the globe are fiercely pegged against each other in this value game, and the one who offers the best value as perceived the customer will be the clear winner.

Let’s try to understand this better. In this day and age of technology driving the industry towards innovation and disruption, there is no ambiguity anymore in the current and future roadmap for retail businesses to survive and thrive. One thing is clear, the retail brands who standout on their customer experience expectations will taste success. However it is important to understand the customer experience paradigm.

Traditionally, retail was transactional and product focused, but that is no more the case. As the focus of the business pivots on the customer, the customer experience paradigm has undergone a significant shift since the early retail days. This shift has largely been the result of technology enabling customers equipping themselves with more information and decision making power, thus putting them in the driver’s seat who are now calling the shots. Fundamentally, the customer experience is all about the value the customer perceives in two ways – i) their interactions with the retail brands, and ii) the offerings they receive from those brands in terms of products/services. Thus, it all boils down to the value the customer receives from their relationship with the retail business.

For retail brands, the best part is that now they have multiple opportunities to provide perceivable value to their customers. As retail has moved from transaction focused to being more customer centric and other factors have influenced the sector big-time, the shopping journey has evolved. Here is where retail brands can seize their opportunities to establish their value offerings. For example, while the customer is researching, a retail company can provide the necessary information that the customer seeks, even though the customer is not seeking information with the intention of purchase. Another example is where a customer can be offered an additional discount while their product is replaced due to issues in the products they had initially purchased. These are some of the many instances of how retailers can offer value – either qualitative or quantitative. These valued offerings will cement the brand-customer relationships in the long-run and thus prove to be a mutual benefit for both the retail company and the customer.

Why is customer data and analytics beneficial for retail?

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Technology has been an enabler for most businesses to achieve better outcomes. The retail business has witnessed tremendous disruptions across various aspects in terms of operations and processes, thanks to technology. Today, the retail sector is the best example of how a business can evolve and one of the major reasons for this has been the customers – they adopted technology, and with that, not only their purchasing behavior, but also different stages of their shopping journey evolved, leaving retail companies no choice but to follow suit.

Tech-savvy customers being the drivers of the retail evolution led to one of the biggest advantages for retailers – the ability to acquire customer data, and translating that data into powerful insights that enabled in better decision making. Listed below are some of the important and tangible benefits that customer analytics based decisions have:

Streamlining retail campaigns: Retailers can channelize their marketing efforts and optimize costs.

Having competitive pricing: Retail brands can price their products based on demand and customers’ expectations and market trends.

Enabling customization: Retail customers can be provided with a combination of features or service that satisfy their needs.

Reducing wastage: Retailers can manage their inventory better by proactively anticipating customer demands.

Facilitating faster delivery: Knowing local demands and trends will enable retailers to set-up the right supply chain management system to fulfill customer orders.

Fostering customer loyalty: Offering the products at the right prices enhances customer satisfaction and leading to loyal customers.

Increasing profitability: All the above factors will lead to higher profitability for the retail business overall.

In today’s retail scenario, the customer is key. Retailers can ensure increase in profitability and sustainability of their businesses by focusing on the customers, knowing and understanding their needs and fulfilling them as and when the customers’ desire.

Important Retail Technology Predictions

Good bye to an eventful 2018 and welcome to the New Year 2019! At this juncture, it is the time to remember all the good things of the past year as well as get ready with plans and strategies for success in the new year. The retail industry has seen many ups and downs in the past year. And from all the reports, stats, debates and news, one thing was clear – retail companies who were not able to cope with technology, struggled while those businesses who used technology effectively, succeeded. The same is expected to continue in the new year and beyond. So here are a few retail tech predictions for the the future.

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Retail is all about…

1. The customer

It is the underlying truth and the ultimate reality for the modern day retail business. The customer has to be at the central focus of the business. Retail brands need to go beyond merely understanding their customers. They must yearn to learn more about their customer so much so that they know every customer well enough to be able to service them appropriately and effectively.

2. The detail

The entire retail business is made up of blocks of processes and operations which need to work together and in tandem for the business to run successfully. As such, attention to details is a must in order to ensure the smooth functioning of the entire business. Moreover, the importance of having details at the granular level can go a long way in enhancing the business, for example having customer details such as which products were searched, which locations were preferred, and so on can help retailers create tailored offerings to their customers.

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3. The 4+1 Ps

This basic principle still holds good. The four Ps i.e. product, price, place, and promotion – are some of the basic foundations of building a successful retail business, add to that another P which stands for the ‘people’ involved in the business – made up of the employees and even the customers. The success mantra for any retail business can be summed up as – ‘having the right products, at the right place and the right channels, at the right price, at the right time, with the right promotions, and driven by the right people and the right processes’. The right retail technology can definitely ensure that the various processes and operations run smoothly for the business to succeed well.

4. The customer experience

The importance of understanding and knowing the retail consumers cannot be stressed more. These are necessary factors to be able to create and offer shopping experiences that can have a positive and memorable impact on customers thus resulting into loyalty, repeat sales and even attracting newer customers to the business. The customer experience in this modern-are retail spans across the entire customer journey and therefore it is essential that retailers leverage each stage of this journey to cement their relationship with the customers.

Tips to transform your in-store customer experience

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Customer experience is the ‘be all and end all’ for retail businesses today. Every retailer is vying to gain the biggest share of the customers’ attention and wallet in order to succeed; and delivering a superior customer experience is the best way retailers can achieve their goals. Therefore, they need to compete in this intense ‘customer experience’ battle ground. Moreover, for brick and mortar retail companies, the competition gets even stiffer as they have to tackle additional contention from e-commerce retail players. With all this competition and other internal & external constraints, offering a fantastic shopping experience for in-store customers is a challenge for your retail business. However, below are a few simple tips that can help you transform your in-store customer experience.

  1. Offering unique and personalized experience

Knowing and understanding customers not only by the demographic characteristics and buying history, but also following their individual shopping journey. This will enable you to go beyond the usual conventions of customer experience and drive you to innovate ways by which you can make the customer experience unique and personalized. Something as basic as knowing that a customer has visited the store on her birthday and presenting her tailored offers can leave a positive impact. Similar kind of unique and personalized experiences need to be created and delivered. This will set you apart in the perception of the customer.

  1. Channelizing store employees

An important element that stores have over e-commerce is the personal touch factor. Store employees can be the brand ambassadors for your business and can thus influence the customers purchase decisions as well as enhance their experience. Therefore you need to mobilize and channelize your store employees and harness their potential to deliver a superior shopping experience. Investing in training your store employees is essential to the success of your brand.

  1. Providing value added services

More is less in the new retail mantra. The modern day customers are demanding and how. They seek more channels for shopping, more choices of products and expect more value for the money they spend. Though this seems to be a challenging situation, you can convert it into an opportunity by incentivizing your customers with value added services for purchasing from the store. This is like an extra layer of customer service that will go a long way in compelling customers to come back to the store. Simple service options like offering to home deliver apparel after alteration or offering to take old stuff and providing cash coupons for purchasing at the store, are some techniques than can be implemented.

  1. Tendering convenience and reducing time

There seem to be a few specific attributes for in-store layouts that have been tried, tested, and proven successful. Some of these attributes include speed, convenience, cleanliness, and product selection. In today’s fast-paced world, where customers expect immediate assistance and instant gratification, making it easy and quick for customers to find their products or information, or providing them with different payment options for convenience and reducing their wait time at check-out queues, can significantly  enhance your in-store customer experience. Using innovative retail technologies can allow you to add these capabilities to your retail stores.

  1. Rewarding regular customers

You must appreciate the loyalty your customers have towards your offline retail business and reward them. Customer relationship management and loyalty programs with attractive reward schemes are proven methods to enhance the brand-customer relationships. The more you reward, the more your customers will come back to buy from you, resulting into a profit churning cycle for your business while offering a superior experience to your customers. Further, these loyal customers would be your brand advocates who in-turn would use their word of mouth to bring new customers.

Are you bracing up for the future of retail and the Amazon onslaught? Omni-channel is the way to do it.

As the New Year 2018 is predicted to bring fortunes for retail businesses across the globe, retailers, both online and offline, continue to seek ways to slow Amazon’s dominant run in the retail landscape. And this seems to be the ‘need of the hour’ as Amazon, having already captured the online retail market has set its sights on offline retail in the last 2 years. Since 2015, the online giant has opened a half dozen bookstores as well as spent a whopping $13.7 billion on acquiring the Whole Foods chain in 2017. Amazon will continue this blitz in the coming years and look to burgeon its market share, thereby threatening other retailers’ success.

And whilst Amazon seeks to disrupt the retail space with its omni-channel prowess, many brands that were traditionally seen as pure-play brick-and-mortar retailers or pure-play online retailers have begun to expand their omni-channel presence and this trend will continue. However, in their endeavor to make it big, they will have to brace up for what lies ahead and the Amazon onslaught.

As customer service and customer experience is the battle ground for retailers’ survival, the basic fundamental is to focus on consumer expectations and to supersede those in ways better than the competition. The modern day consumer’s expectations live in both the online and offline worlds simultaneously.

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Below are four tactical ways retailers can address consumers’ expectations without further ado, offering the omni-channel experience that consumers will crave for more:

Integrating local in-store inventory with eCommerce

Imagine a scenario where a shopper headed to a birthday party realizes she needs to get a gift. With about an hour left for the party purchasing on Amazon is not an option. In this case, she could look to buy the gift from local store’s website and then pick it up on her way. This is an ideal case and that is the kind of service that brick-and-mortar retailers must look to offer while competing with Amazon and safeguarding their customer loyalty. The process uses both online and offline channels, and thus makes it a seamless omni-channel shopping experience.

Receiving returns in-store for online purchases

Another important advantage that brick-and-mortar retailers have over Amazon is that customers looking to return a product purchased online could just do it at the local store instead of mailing it back or waiting for someone to come and pick it up. Only having a truly omni-channel business can make this possible. Retailers can thus use the power of their own stores and online sites to impress their customers and beat the Amazon heat.

Ensuring information availability in-store

Having well-informed sales associates at the store will help retailers ring up more sales is obvious and there is a lot of scope for this. One of the ways of ensuring the sales associates are informed and ready is by equipping them with tablet devices carrying information related to the product such as availability price, offers, popularity, and information of the customer, such as purchase history, preferences and more. The devices can also have competitor related information regarding products, prices and promotions. With all this information they’ll be able to respond to any question a consumer throws at them. Moreover, extending this concept using an in-store kiosk or an interactive device where the customers can themselves browse and gather information will also help the cause greatly. These techniques will help retailers retain customer loyalty and compete with Amazon.

Using the stores beyond display and selling

At Apple Stores, customers can learn how to take better photos with their devices, learn the basics about operating their Macbooks and discover their use for art and design projects. The Home Depot hosts workshops for people keen to learn new carpentry skills. Some brands don’t even sell anything in their retail spaces. These are excellent examples of extending the real estate of the brick-and-mortar store as an opportunity to use this space for creating experience beyond just displaying products or selling. Additionally, retailers can use their online sites to inform customers about such happenings at the store. And this is one of the major advantage that brick-and-mortar retailers going omni-channel have over online players like Amazon.

These techniques may seem beyond the immediate capability of retailers. But the urgency to acquire these operational capabilities is real and unforgiving. If retailers want to be ready for the future and compete with Amazon but they continue doing business the way they have been, then it spells nothing but doom. Without the right omni-channel retail software solution, right from the Point-of-sale (POS) to the supply chain, retailers may end up being thrown out of business.

Augmented Reality – the new normal in retail

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There has been a complete turnaround in the way retailers go about carrying their businesses in recent years. From quick online payments to fast product deliveries, retailers have incorporated various disruptive strategies to provide a hassle free shopping experience. But there are various other technological advancements that facilitate retailers in streamlining their business processes. One such advancement that has proved to be quite successful for retailers is Augmented Reality (AR).

AR as the name suggests augments or enhances our surroundings by enabling us to interact with the products we wish to purchase. Now, one may wonder why we need an enhanced environment for interacting with the products. Well, the idea is pretty simple, customers often search for the desired products online before making a purchase. However, it is difficult for them to understand the features of the product completely, resulting in a lost sales opportunity for the retailers. To not miss out on an online sale, it is imperative for the retailers to find newer avenues that lure the customers to make the purchase. In an era where handheld devices are commonplace, it easier for them to develop an application or an e-commerce website that can access the front/web camera of the customers’ devices and allow them to look at themselves interacting with the product through AR, thus, making it more easier for them to make the buying decision and thus, the purchase.

It is not limited to mobile applications and e-commerce websites; retailers having brick-and-mortar stores too can adopt this technology. For instance, apparel retailers can embed AR technology with their store mirrors converting them into smart mirrors. This helps people to experience the products without actually trying them. It is a great technological advancement that can also be used as a marketing tool as it impels customers to experience this at the stores. It helps in increasing the store footfall which in turn increases the chances of people making a purchase, resulting in an improved bottom line for the retailers.

AR also enhances the efficiency of the store in which it is used. It saves the customers’ time as they are not required to try out every product physically, resulting in less number of people queueing outside the trial room. Moreover, in a short span, a wide variety of products can be tried which allows the in-store staff to better understand the requirements of other customers, thus eliminating the possibility of a customer being neglected.

AR along with various other technological advancements has changed the scenario of retailing worldwide. It has been embraced by some of the biggest retailers across the globe and is all set to penetrate further into the retail space. Retailers should keep themselves abreast with such technological advancements since these shall become indispensable for them to maintain a prominent stature in the dynamic retail space.

Redefining the Future of Retail Personalization using Artificial Intelligence

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Personalization in retail is definitely not a new concept. Retailers have explored it in many ways over the years to improve shopping experience for the customers. While other retailers simply managed greeting returning customers by their name, Amazon has been one of the pioneers of personalization in retail with its ability to show different and relevant home pages for different customers based on their past clickstream paths and buying history. However, such rudimentary approaches are now considered the starting point for modern day retail marketers.

Customers are savvier than they were a few years ago. Personalization is not a need for them anymore, it is an expected norm. And retail brands must rise to the occasion to exceed this expectation. This may seem an extremely challenging task but with the proliferation of data analytics and implementation of machine learning and artificial intelligence, retail personalization can be majorly resurged.

To begin with, a very basic and brief preview into how AI works; AI uses comprehensive algorithms and logics to find trends in available data be it internal or third party and then helps analyze those trends to derive patterns that can be associated to shopping behaviors and customer personas. Utilizing machine learning that operates on probability and statistics, adjustments can be made in data sets to achieve the best outcome when it comes to creating the right marketing message for each individual customer.

Application of AI driven process in retail marketing and promotion campaigns will not only help retailers acquire new customers, but also boost repeat business. Increased accuracy in personalized communication to the customers along with tailored recommendations and offers will compel shoppers to strengthen their loyalty as they will begin to associate the retail brand with personalized, relevant experiences.

For retail personalization, the future seems to be pretty exciting. Leveraging the potential of Artificial Intelligence, there are limitless possibilities to notch up personalization to levels beyond the imagination of the customer. Infusing AI in marketing will be the differentiating factor for retail marketers that look to stand out from the horde of advertising and marketing communication targeting shoppers.

Endless Aisles – Harnessing In-Store and Online Shopping

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Endless aisle is allowing customers to make use of technologies such as specially designed in-store kiosks or other intuitive systems to order items that are currently out-of-stock in that particular brick-and-mortar store. It is a concept that extends beyond the inventory that in tangible form is available in the store at a given point in time. Thus, endless aisle allows retailers to forge a strong link between customer demand and inventory. Retail companies that have been quick to embrace cross-channel strategies have already begun adopting the endless aisle technology to boost their sales further.

But what makes endless aisle click? Here are some of the noteworthy benefits:

Retailers can downsize unnecessary floor area of their brick-and-mortar store. This trimming of floor space will therefore result in higher sales per square foot. Implementing endless aisle also helps retail owners counteract in-store revenue bleeding as a result of showrooming. Retail companies can thus capitalize on reduced cost of rentals and optimize the available floor space. Further, retailers can reduce the effort of displaying large products physically at the store with the implementation of endless aisle. Products that have low inventory turnover can thus be removed from the shelves of the store. Endless aisle can help boost conversion rate due to the enhanced shopping feature at the physical store and help improve customer loyalty.

With the advent of endless aisle, the need to depend on warehouses to stock-up merchandise is diminished to a large extent as retailers can enter into tie-ups with manufacturers to ship the ordered products directly to the consumers from the manufacturer’s end.

In-store consumers can enjoy the comfort of e-shopping without compromising on the traditional ‘touch and feel’ factor. Also, real-time visibility of available products at the physical and virtual store empowers the customers to shop on their own terms.

With the help of data processing and analytics, retailers can display only those products that have a high turnover in-store while offering the not-so-popular merchandise through kiosks, tablets or computers so that customers can try and buy at the same time.

As the consumers of today are in the driver’s seat, demanding the best service and setting up high expectations, retailers must opt for investing in the right tools and technology to successfully implement endless aisle in their business thus ensuring that they do not end-up facing the reality of lost sales situations.