Even the most skilled omnichannel retailers, who have spent years honing the shopping experience, can do more, according to industry experts.
In fact, many retailers are being urged to embrace the newest technology offerings to improve how they sell to consumers. The importance of a sophisticated tech infrastructure was one of the main takeaways of Aptos Engage 2019, the annual technology user conference devoted to retail applications, held April 29-May 2 in Orlando, Fla.
“People assume that everybody has buy online, pick up in-store or ship from store, or things like that,” said Nikki Baird, VP of retail innovation at Aptos. “The reality is that maybe they were doing that, but it was mostly with baling wire and chewing gum.”
Retailers have been combatting the shifting retail landscape by offering consumers new ways to purchase, but this requires accurate, up-to-date knowledge on where product is. Being able to communicate quickly between online and offline channels is crucial, said experts, in order to fulfill inventory promises to customers; retailers have been able to use new technology solutions to lower update times to 15 minutes, from 3 hours.
Understanding where product is located, but also where it’s being sold from or sent to, can also help retailers make better order decisions. By feeding this sales information back into the planning system, companies can place product more optimally and therefore minimize the additional logistics required to move items between stores and warehouses.
However, Engage attendees also discussed the importance of knowing when a new purchasing service isn’t right for your business.
John Hazen, chief digital officer of Boot Barn, discussed how the company’s retail strategy isn’t well matched to a “ship from store” model. The stores display all their product unboxed for a more tactile consumer experience; shipping an item that was in-store requires boxing it back up and quickly replenishing the brick-and-mortar inventory.
“You need to understand what kind of experience you want to deliver to the consumer before you start defining what are the functions that you want the business to do — whether that’s BOPIS, ship to store or ship from store,” said Baird. “I think it helps narrow the focus for retailers.”
Keeping brand identity and mission at the forefront of strategy decisions was repeated by several participating brands. For the Vitamin Shoppe, that meant expanding the touch points that it has with the consumer; the loyalty program is now available through an Aptos-supported mobile app, while the product itself is sold at local gyms. At Under Armour, global IT director Brian Quill spoke about creating opportunities for selfie experiences in-store. When consumers love a brand, he said, they want to share and communicate this, so each store tries to offer a unique selfie opportunity for maximum localization.
While retail challenges remain, the new crop of technology has made many retailers more confident in their outlook.
“Retail has been beaten up for a really long time, but there is this sense of an inflection point,” said Baird. “Companies are understanding the nature of the beast and now they have the tools to address it.”
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