While online provides the platform for search and selection, the fact remains that it is the physical store that dominates the volumes of actual transactions
The demands for a true omni-channel strategy continues to grow as retailers recognise customers want a seamless end to end experience, especially among younger audiences.
But while online provides the platform for search and selection, the fact remains that it is the physical store that dominates the volumes of actual transactions. It’s no secret why the likes of Amazon have now invested in Wholefoods and why Alibaba is strengthening its physical estate.
Indeed Generix Group’s findings, say that physical retail will still account for 80 per cent of sales globally by 2025.
If physical retailers are to take full advantage of the opportunity which lays in front of them, they need to make sure they are keeping pace with the evolving needs of consumers, while simultaneously considering how technology can help improve the customer experience in-store.
This is backed up by research from Vista, which found that more than two thirds (67 per cent) of consumers believe retailers should be taking advantage of technologies including AI, AR and VR.
This will help some of the most common problems raised by consumers in-store: items being out of stock, a lack of customer service advisors, and too much time spent waiting in checkout lines. The challenge in doing this, however, lies in embracing these technologies while simultaneously delivering cost savings.
However, despite the best intentions of retailers in implementing what we might call the ‘store of the future’, many struggle to do so due to their existing IT infrastructures, which are not equipped to deliver the next-generation in-store experience that customers now expect.
Simply put, the vast majority of these infrastructures are not optimised for the latest technologies and are therefore not conducive to enabling a truly personalised customer experience across in-store and online environments. This indicates the need for a swift change in IT approach.
If physical retail is to flourish, the relevant retailers need to implement agile IT infrastructures that can support the applications on which new services are built quickly, cost effectively, and without fuelling the costly hardware proliferation in some stores. The infrastructures also need to be secure, easy to support and — importantly for all businesses — financially viable. IT needs to deliver cost savings today, as well as a platform for innovation.
This demands a focus on the ‘retail edge’ — a move which can help to meet these demands related to in-store technology.
This new retail edge approach enables the distributed store estate to be managed as an integrated whole which can run all required applications and experiences and be deployed, upgraded, secured and supported as one entity from a central point, rather than as a collection of disparate in-store systems with separate management and support needs.
This implies a powerful, distributed, and virtualised in-store technology to securely run multiple applications, peripheral hardware and more in-store.
Plus, while this technology can deliver many of the flexibility and cost-related benefits of more traditional cloud solutions, it needs to be tackled with an ‘in-store’ approach rather than an ‘in-cloud’ one. This is due to the dependency on cloud availability and in-built latency, both of which simply involve too high a risk factor for retailers to put up with — particularly for POS and other related peripherals.
At the heart of an approach like this lies intelligent automation technology, which enables the control and updating of IT across the entire retail estate, thereby simplifying previously complex IT tasks and ensuring a consistent and secure IT environment.
There is a significant opportunity for retailers out there, particularly those that are keen to adapt quickly to the changing needs of consumers.
To do this, however, they need to take a new approach to their existing IT infrastructures and one that doesn’t necessarily involve significant costs at the outset. The phrases that we are so used to hearing such as ‘run it all from the cloud’ or ‘keep the old stuff working’ simply won’t cut it anymore and should therefore be treated as red flags for any IT or store operations executive looking to thrive in the digital era.
The answer lies in managed, distributed and virtualised in-store solutions, which sit at the retail edge. These offer greater operational efficiency and the agility that is so essential to future physical retail success; helping to deliver unique in-store experiences that e-commerce competitors simply can’t offer to competitors, all while remaining affordable and sustainable.
Nick East is CEO of Zynstra