After years of constant disruption, traditional retailers are now raising their game. How? With a renewed sense of purpose. By pinpointing their distinctive values–their heritage, their ethics and social ideals, their reason for being–and using them to guide how they offer, sell, and operate, successful retailers are finding new ways to differentiate their brands in highly competitive markets.
But using purpose effectively takes more than articulating a vision. It has to be backed up with a customer experience that rings true to the brand–on every channel and at every moment. It requires a willingness to experiment with new forms of immersive, unique, and compelling engagement and interaction, both in store and online. It means harnessing the benefits of advanced technologies to maximize operational efficiency.
These ideas form the backbone of the 2018 “Accenture Technology Vision” report. In it, we examine some of the critical trends enabling retailers to go beyond simply offering products and services–and meet individual customer needs at a far deeper and more meaningful level, driven by a clear and distinct sense of purpose.
Here are the ideas we see as vital to curating the customer experiences that deliver new levels of retail growth and differentiation.
Stores Fight Back Through Extended Reality
We all love the convenience of mobile and online commerce. But most shopping is still a social activity. For many types of purchases, nothing beats visiting the physical store and getting a direct sense of the look and feel of the merchandise we’re buying.
By combining this universal truth with the smart application of digital technologies, brick-and-mortar stores are able to craft ever more convenient and personalized shopping experiences–and reinforce their market positioning amid the seemingly unstoppable rise of online commerce.
Consider how fashion and apparel stores are bringing immersive experiences into the fitting room. Touchscreen “smart mirrors” use RFID technology to recognize items customers have brought in to try on and can suggest new ways to style them. Some retailers are even using the same technology to create super-convenient self-checkouts, where customers can pay for their items and leave the store without having to wait for a sales associate to help them.
The best kinds of retail innovation are often “invisible”–offering consumers a natural and seamless extension of the shopping experience. As intelligent digital technologies become more pervasive in our day-to-day lives, the possibilities for innovating these kinds of experiences across an exploding number of consumer touchpoints grow exponentially.
For retailers, creating that surface simplicity means overcoming a vast array of system-integration challenges. Consider point of sale. It’s rapidly evolving into “point of service,” in which the retailer creates new value for customers by integrating interactions across all channels–their preferences, shopping trolleys, and sales and return history–using advanced analytics and AI.
Making that integration work seamlessly calls for a smart approach to the technology, tailored to the needs of the business. Low-volume retailers, for example, are looking to achieve it through preintegrated software-as-a-service models. High-volume retailers, on the other hand, will often choose a platform approach, leveraging open-source solutions.
Smoothing Out The Friction
Successful retailers know they need to think like a tech business. That means reorganizing their IT to ensure their business interactions–with customers, partners, and wider ecosystems –are as smooth and friction-free as possible.
Today’s leaders are doing so by incorporating agile methodologies, DevOps, and cloud solutions at scale, while developing multimodal forms of IT that enable each part of the organization to work in the ways, and at the pace, best-suited to their particular goals.
They’re also enabling the technology-driven partnerships that are now an essential part of retail. Using innovations like serverless computing and microservices, they’re creating modern, flexible architectures to integrate with their partners–with speed and agility.
The Internet Of Thinking
Few businesses have the scale and reach to compete in the digital marketplace entirely on their own. That’s why the smartest retailers are looking far beyond the borders of their enterprise, adopting the mindset of a startup to engage with their broader ecosystems and share customer insights, industry knowledge, and the latest technologies.
By forming partnerships with other companies, they’re getting access to new capabilities that keep them at the cutting edge of retail far more easily than they could hope to achieve by themselves. Whether it’s technology companies, logistics businesses, or even direct competitors, they’re building affiliations that let them innovate new ideas and adapt to changing consumer expectations so much faster.
Reimagining Purpose With Technology
These trends offer today’s retailers a host of complementary strategies for creating successful retail experiences. Making it happen won’t always be easy–changing how a business makes money from the ground up is no small feat. But those that get it right will create something truly unique. They’ll use technology-led innovation to articulate their distinct purpose and curate deeper, more personal interactions with their customers. That’s not just a nice to have–it’s vital for creating tomorrow’s retail advantage today.