The retail industry is facing a challenging transition period as rapid growth is accompanied by technological and operational change that is disrupting the entire sector. Mature social media models, widespread mobile device use and easy access to web resources are changing how consumers research and purchase items. In response, retailers are trying to refine their business processes, develop better methods to leverage digital technologies, and create more cohesive customer experiences. The result is an industry that is booming, but growing so quickly that few companies can keep up. Application development platforms are emerging to provide the digital transformation retailers need to get ahead of the competition by keeping pace with shifting consumer expectations.
The global retail industry is expected to grow by 15 percent between 2016 and 2021, Euromonitor International found. As the sector expands, traditional lines between different ways to shop are beginning to blur. People browse products on their smartphones while in a store. Shoppers buy an item online, but decide they'd like to pick it up at a brick-and-mortar location. The industry is changing in terms of where people shop, how they interact with brands, and how they discuss their retail experiences.
Businesses need to adapt around the new omnichannel retail reality. Application platforms play an instrumental role in helping retailers handle these changes. Three ways they accomplish this result are:
The customer experience often centers around the relationship between expectations and service delivery. A retailer with a variety of locations, for example, will create a set of brand standards -marketing themes, product preferences, decor, customer service priorities, etc - that are common across all locations. Then, local or regional stores may make small tweaks within that framework to meet the expectations of their geographic markets. Either way, the in-store experience is designed to consistently meet customer demands in terms of both brand and location-specific shopping characteristics.
"Retailers can't segregate different types of interactions and experiences."
The need to expand this same brand consistency to web channels is an established part of the e-commerce sector. However, the rise of the omni-channel shopping experience has created a great deal of more complexity. Brands can't just support a customer via a web account and have a separate in-store account. Retailers can't segregate different types of interactions and experiences. Instead, organizations must ensure that customer journeys are consistent and cohesive as consumers transition between different channels during interactions with brands.
Something as simple as having to repeat information about a shopping experience can turn customers away from a brand.
Any inconvenience is a major problem in today's retail world. The Euromonitor International study mentioned earlier explained that convenience is becoming one of the primary customer demands in the retail industry as urbanization and an aging population come together to change the global socio-economic climate. The retailers that create strong customer journeys can offer convenience that stands out in the sector and fosters strong omnichannel experiences.
Ultimately, Euromonitor International explained that creating a truly seamless omnichannel experience is essential.
Imagine a customer walks into one of your stores. The consumer looks around, tries on a couple of items and goes home, only to order a few goods online. The next day, your data mining system identifies a social media post with a message along the lines of, "Went to the local store to get a new outfit, but, like always, they never carry just what I'm looking for. The clerks were no help, so I ordered online and am stuck waiting for shipping. It's so annoying." This kind of experience is sometimes a necessary negative of the limitations of inventories, but brands can work around the issues by blending the physical and digital experience.
"New technologies, cross-channel experiences, and backend process improvements can come together to give brands an edge."
Business Insider reported that physical retailers are increasingly putting beacons, interactive fitting rooms and similar digital solutions in place to make it easier for consumers to interact with brands over multiple channels.
Consumers won't have to jump through hoops to order a product in a different color if a barcode scanner in the dressing room scans the tag, gives the customer the in-store sale price and completes the order, right there, with the user's account. What's more, having all of these transactions happening directly within the store's system often makes it easier to manage the supply chain and accelerate shipments perhaps by sending the item directly for in-store pick-up, allowing for expedited delivery and a strong customer experience. New technologies, cross-channel experiences, and backend process improvements can come together to give brands an edge.
The challenge underneath the surface of the omni-channel world is that consumers will pick and choose when, how and with which method they will use to interact with brands. Retailers that try to control and gate how customers can reach them will fall behind in terms of convenience. As such, putting limited resources into mobile will leave many shoppers in the cold when they try to order something via phone. However, emphasizing mobile apps over web shopping may leave people browsing stores online frustrated. A balanced experience is critical, and retailers must adjust their backend process and technical capabilities to roll new solutions out quickly and continually refine their offerings in light of customer demands.
Cloud application development platforms function as holistic environments where companies can house data, applications, web services, process management capabilities and similar systems in a single hub. From there, users can quickly roll out new solutions as needed in response to changes in the market. This can mean anything from adding a new module to a mobile app in a matter of days or weeks instead of months to building an internal workflow to automatically send recent customer transaction records to a store clerk when looking up products for a system with a registered account.
Omni-channel expectations create a simple problem: In-store experiences aren't digitally enabled to a sufficient degree to keep up with consumer needs, but backend supply chain and shipping challenges often introduce a frustrating amount of inconvenience into shopping over digital channels. App platforms give brands the tools to create better digital solutions for stores and improved employee-facing services in the backend. As a result, retailers can make the changes needed to sustain growth in this period of disruption.
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