It goes without saying that today’s retailers are evolving into radically different beasts from those encountered by consumers as recently as ten years ago. The ubiquity of smart devices means that shoppers now interact with their favourite brands on their terms, expecting continuity and a seamless experience regardless of the channel they use.
Keeping up with these technological changes and consumer expectations is an ongoing challenge. The retail industry has as a result struggled to avoid the emergence of organisational siloes, a major problem for brands trying to develop an omnichannel presence. One example of this is the way that the ecommerce departments of retail businesses are often positioned in competition with brick and mortar stores, and run by different teams.
Another disconnect is the emerging gap between senior management and shop floor sales staff, a problem resulting from ineffective communications channels. Senior executives have limited visibility of insights available at shop floor level, while real-time management information is rarely accessible to staff on the front line.
A long standing problem in retail is how best to empower sales assistants on the shop floor and capture information based on the customer interactions they have each and every day. As a result, it can be difficult for head office to get an accurate view of how individual branches are operating. The loyalty card was once seen as the answer to this problem; however, limited to reporting on purchase histories, it provides a fairly restricted window into shopper behaviour. Naturally, companies are now turning to technology to help.
Brands are increasingly adopting employee facing mobile technologies designed for shop floor use. These solutions act as companions for sales assistants to provide easier access to information, execute transactions and improve interactions with customers. Aside from improving customer experiences, these solutions also provide real management insight into what happens on the shop floor - how sales assistants sell and how customers shop - which can be shared with senior teams and built into wider business strategies. Connecting the internal siloes, such technologies open up a two way conversation between different departments and operations.
Ultimately, mobile and cloud strategies hold the key to breaking down the barriers between business siloes, allowing companies to create end-to-end experiences for both employees and customers, but it requires an aligned objective and ambition to start with. Once retailers place these technologies at the heart of their organisation, they will begin to see the emergence of a truly integrated commerce operation. This in turn will enable them to approach both challenges and opportunities from a holistic standpoint that incorporates input from both the C-suite and individual branches.
Dan Hartveld, CTO of Red Ant