Business Technology

The fourth industrial revolution can give today’s retailers a competitive edge

5 min read

15 March 2018

In the new age of retail, technology is everything, explains Anil Gandharve, vice president and global head of retail, CPG and manufacturing at IT consultancy Mindtree.

From established high street brands to emerging online marketplaces, retailers are increasingly relying on technology to stay one step ahead of their competition.

The world’s foremost online marketplace, Amazon, has recently opened the doors to its first supermarket store without checkouts. This bold move exemplified just how today’s retailers are increasingly disrupting the traditional approach to physical stores – enhancing them as opposed to replacing them.

But this new era won’t just see bricks and mortar stores disappear entirely. Instead, they will become re-engineered and re-configured thanks to advancements made emerging technologies.

Crucially however, striking the right balance between technology and the human touch will determine customer retention and the success rate of attempts to win new customers.

Winning in the new retail age

The creation of the physical hybrid store is not the sector’s only innovation. Retailers can now use new and emerging technologies to create stores that are no longer just stores, but experience centres.

In addition, in order to deliver on the tantalising promise of a new digitally-charged world, retailers will either need to reshape their value chain in its entirety – or at least very significant parts of it. Success will then be predicated on how well the balance between these new technologies and the human touch can be struck.

Customers will also consistently require a tailored technological experience, which feels personal to them and real. Consequently, a store run by robots and algorithms just won’t cut it.

Weathering the technology storm

Retailers are now finding it more and more difficult to predict consumer spending habits as the lines between online and digital worlds have become more blurred than ever.

Collectively, retailer competition has reached its peak. Prudent deployment of technologies should be focused on keeping existing customers happy, as much as it should be for attracting fresh ones.

The outlook isn’t all bleak however. In November last year, figures from the Office for National Statistics highlighted how Black Friday boosted retail sales by 1.6 per cent in 2017 when compared with 2016.

Despite this, retailers are mimicking consumers and erring on the side of caution. And, in doing so, are adopting a more considered and methodical approach to the purchasing process.

The customer is always right

Personalisation is now front and centre. Consumers want tailored experiences and they want them quickly. Embracing these technological shifts will then enable retailers to properly tap into consumer trends.

Specifically, advances in conversational commerce such as chatbots, voice and image recognition software have been fundamental to this.

The crux of the matter is that the customer is always right – without fail. The real challenge lies in capturing fleeting attention in today’s highly fragmented marketplace. This is where retail innovators will rise and fall.

Leveraging technology across multiple channels – online, on mobile and in-store – will also allow retailers to obtain a better understanding of consumers’ paths to purchase with data and additional insights. It’s now only a matter of time until we start to see technological revolutions in retail delivering the best customer experience uniformly across all devices.

The changing face of retail technology

Emerging technologies like the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are helping retailers develop thorough and rapid levels of data intelligence to react almost instantaneously to a customer’s needs.

As the digital transformation sweeping across the retail sector will primarily be driven by the mass adoption of AI technologies, in combination with the transition to the cloud, this will redefine retail technology not only this year but beyond.

The real holy grail for retail is the ability to react in real time and understand the best responses to consumer behaviour in the moment, thus making it all the more important for retailers to have end-to-end visibility of their supply chain.

The bottom line therefore is that technology will improve communication between what retailers can offer and what consumers desire. Those retailers who can be more agile and respond to customers faster, and in a more cost effective way, will not only reduce operational costs, but will also open up fresh and previously untapped avenues of business that their competitors can’t.