According to the PWC 2017 Total Retail Consumer survey, retailers are facing one of the most competitive environments in decades. It’s easy to think that this wave of competition is driven by flighty consumers who easily jump from brand to brand based on whatever’s “hot” and new, but you’d only be partially correct.
Consumer driven retail
It’s true, consumers are driving the way retailers behave – or should behave. It is the ‘Age of the Consumer’, and consumers are dictating what they want, when they want it and how they want it delivered. The study, however, cites a considerable 61% of shoppers already know what they want and will continue to buy it, lending credence to the fact that consumers aren’t quite as flighty as we’d like to believe. Instead, they are picky and select their products based on knowledge, recommendations and – yes – social media.
The competitive environment, it seems, is driven by the vast array of non-traditional players who are encroaching on traditional retail space, and threatening those retailers who rely on brick-and-mortar channels, or multi-channels to engage with their customers. Online shopping via mobile technology has leaped over the past four years, highlighting the fact that many shoppers prefer this channel to most others. Interestingly, though, is that instore shopping has also increased since 2014, when the novelty of online shopping was in full sway.
This makes it apparent that retailers need to embrace an omni-channel route-to-market and, more importantly, look at ways to bridge online and instore shopping to create a seamless customer experience. However, this is not a new concept; merely one that needs to be accelerated for retailers to compete effectively in this challenging landscape.
Moving retail to the Cloud
The Cloud has opened the door for fast-paced digitalisation to take place. Cloud technology is a cost-effective and low-risk tool to easily provide information on products, customers, or processes at any time. It’s also an efficient way to process data. Retailers still don’t fully understand the benefits that the cloud offers, how to migrate to it, and what options work best for them.
Many service providers offer acceleration programs and cloud-based services that provide the agility, flexibility and adaptable integration required for unrolling an effective and interlocking omni-channel strategy. However, few possess the in-depth knowledge required to understand a retailer’s unique challenges in this unyielding market, along with bundle-only-what-you-need and pay-for-only-what-you-use models which allow retailers to explore their options safely, knowledgably, and with minimal financial impact.
Retailers can make use of cloud technologies in many ways. They can migrate complete processes, IT services and infrastructure to the Cloud, or simply leverage it for storage space for data. What makes it especially attractive is the speed at which these projects can be rolled out, and its elasticity. Retailers don’t need to subscribe to pre-packaged solutions which contain unwanted and unnecessary services, or which lack a few services which would be particularly beneficial.
Mobile purchasing platforms can be built, supported and hosted in the cloud, and easily synchronised with instore digital technology to offer customers the same ‘look and feel’ across all channels. Advanced security features mean that retailers and their customers can rest assured knowing that regulations are complied with, and that data, processes and infrastructure adhere to local and international security standards.
By leveraging the cloud, customer and retailer data can be easily accessed, adapted, and disseminated precisely where it will have the best effect, from a single platform. This is particularly beneficial for large retailers with multiple outlets and online portals. However, even smaller retailers can profit from using cloud technology. With a single click, employees can access and use a customer’s information to provide them with custom solutions and advice, catering to that ‘picky customer’ and further cementing the brand loyalty of existing customers.
The Cloud gives retailers a 360-degree view of their customers, while giving them the opportunity to provide their consumers with a 360-degree customer journey. Retailers can easily adapt to the fickle market, and continue to provide exactly with the customers need – instore and online. Resources and services offered in the cloud can be used flexibly and as they are needed. This enables retailers to act quickly to new trends, and make snap adjustments according to unplanned peaks or troughs in demand.
There are a confusing number of cloud options out there. Retailers require a partner that understands the specific nuances of the various cloud options available, and who has the capacity to match the best option to suit the retailer’s specific needs. They also need a partner who has the capability of supporting their solution, so that the retailer can focus on what matters: supporting their customer and bypassing their competition – across all channels.
By Johan Jansen van Rensburg, Portfolio & Delivery Solution Manager SI at T-Systems South Africa