There are very few retailers that are able to escape implementing some form of digital transformation strategy. There is no hiding from the fact that it can be a challenging experience. But the reality is that all retailers will benefit from embracing technology as it ultimately enables them to provide customers with the seamless cross-channel experiences that they are increasingly demanding.
At a time when retailers are under ever more pressure to deliver returns on investment, and technology executives are straining themselves to extract funds from tight capex budgets, the decision-making over where to allocate funds has never been more important.
What makes life particularly tough is that there have never been more options in the technology marketplace. But the counter to this is that there has also never been a time of greater time for opportunity. The digital revolution has created the platform for the building of agile business models that can tap into applications hosted in the cloud. This provides the ability to test-and-learn at a pace like never before.
Such solutions are thick on the ground – as well as in the cloud – at NRF’s annual Big Show currently taking place in New York City. The event brings together the world’s leading retailers with the industry’s foremost technology providers. Within the vast halls of the Javits exhibition centre retailers are able to experience the latest solutions and gain insights into how they should be positioning their businesses in order to take advantage of the most relevant technologies.
Two years ago voice recognition was the big thing – with Alexa-type solutions exciting people the most – while in 2019 it was video-based visual analytics that arguably stole the show. Underpinning both of these is Artificial Intelligence (AI) that again looks set to feature strongly, judging by the roster of speakers presenting at this year’s event who have AI in their presentation titles.
What looks particularly interesting this year is the focus on sustainability and new business models. Whereas in the past it was specialists who focused on creating environmental-driven businesses, but times have changed and this is now a mainstream requirement. As such, technology solutions that help retailers deliver on sustainable objectives will be in evidence – and no doubt in demand – at NRF this year.
Likewise, solutions for those retailers who are looking to operate models that incorporate the circular economy and re-commerce – where goods are brought back into a business and re-sold. At the heart of these new business models is the management of inventory, with an underlying message at NRF 2020 involving the highlighting of a single view of stock as absolutely critical for all retailers.
Another interesting area being discussed is around technology that helps retailers deliver more immersive, personalised experiences – both in-store and online. There has been a growing realisation that the physical store will continue to play an important role but that this involves them being about much more than simply places to flog goods. This can mean offering services, hosting special events and previews, as well as providing shoppers with access to expert tuition.
Managing these new, deeper – and very much data-driven – relationships with the customer in-store and then integrating it with the non-store channels represents both the challenge and the opportunity for retailers. If they can utilise the relevant technologies to help them deliver a seamless, and very personal, experience to each individual shopper then the future can be rosy.
For those retailers on this journey (that we could describe as a digital transformation) there is much to explore, investigate and consider at NRF, which will inform their decision-making and hopefully make it that little bit easier for them as they plan out their futures.