Keeping Pace with Retail’s Rapid Evolution

In this pandemic recovery period, retail is in a state of change, driven by shifting consumer demands, says Nikki Baird, vice president of strategy at Aptos.

Baird also says there’s never been a more exciting time to be in retail. Sure, there are challenges, such as inflation and supply chain disruptions. But shoppers are embracing physical retail. They want to experience their favorite brands in person, and they want to discover new ones too. They also want to continue shopping online and on many different devices.

Welcome to the challenges of an ever-evolving retail market.

From a store technology perspective, these changes can be hard to navigate. Here, Baird discusses what’s driving these trends, what shoppers look for in a store experience, and how Aptos ONE POS empowers retailers to make their stores the center of a seamless, unified shopping journey.

Fairchild Studio: How has consumer behavior changed? Are shoppers returning to stores? 

Nikki Baird: Yes, our retail clients tell us consumers are definitely coming back to the store — and in force. Some of our clients are noting that store traffic doubled in 2022 over the prior year. Even though e-commerce has flattened off, we still see sustained interest in buy online, pickup in store as well as ship from store.

At a macro level, we do see consumer expectations of retailers changing. For example, consumers expect brands to be purpose driven. It’s not enough for a brand to say that it has sustainability objectives; shoppers actually want the brand to make the world a better place.

This shift in consumer expectations is common across different categories — for example, wellness. Consumers don’t expect brands to just have a fun store environment. They expect a wellness benefit from the brand’s fun store environment. And retailers and brands are responding to these demands. Some companies are turning stores into community centers where brands and people connect meaningfully.

Nikki Baird, vice president of strategy at Aptos.
CREDIT: Devon McKenna

WWD: What else do consumers expect in an in-store experience?  

N.B.: They expect it to be brand engagement. They expect it to be connecting to other brand enthusiasts. They expect it to be inventory and fulfillment. They expect it to be returns and customer service. They expect all of those things.

Fairchild Studio: From a tech stack perspective, what are the challenges to this retail evolution? 

N.B.: The pace of change in stores needs to be driven by technology. It’s what the technology can enable you to do that really makes a difference. And in the traditional POS format, you’re, at best, updating — not upgrading but updating — once every two years. So, you’re adding incremental new capabilities in the store, at best, every two years. And you’re probably actually upgrading, as a step-level improvement, maybe every five to seven years.

Meanwhile, the pace of change of the consumer, the pace of change of technology, and the expectations that consumers have about how retailers use technology as part of the store experience — they’re way too fast for that.

That’s why retailers are looking for modern architecture and cloud-based solutions. They want to update at least every six months. They want to be able to introduce that incremental improvement on a much more frequent basis. And then they don’t want to have to make step-level changes, because you should be able to keep up with the pace of change with those incremental ones.

Fairchild Studio: Would you also say there are significant issues with legacy technology systems not being integrated across channels?

N.B.: Absolutely. And this is why you see legacy systems getting “Frankensteined.” It’s frustrating and inefficient. You want to put omnichannel capabilities in the store, but your order management system was selected to work only with your e-commerce. Or you use one payment solution provider for e-commerce, but you have a different payment provider for in store. For online, you need fraud mitigation features, but not for in store. And with buy online, pick-up in store, your POS is not integrated. It’s a mess.

And that’s where the value proposition of Aptos ONE, our microservices-based SaaS platform, is really clear. Aptos ONE makes the shopping experience so much smoother as it supports one set of universal capabilities, available at any touch point.

When you look at retailing in store today, it’s really about the connection between the shopper and the store associate. It’s about bringing the best of the store associate to the customer in the context of the store.

And as mobile has become much more important, so have the mix-and-match capabilities of what you need to be able to do in the store. In one moment, you need to be a customer service representative. In another moment, you need to do a return. In another moment, you need to do endless aisle selling. Associates have to be able to switch among all those contexts at a moment’s notice. And it’s being able to have the flexibility to meet that moment that becomes important. And Aptos ONE becomes an important technology enabler for that.

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Fairchild Studio: Which retailers are some of the early adopters of Aptos ONE? 

N.B.: Since its release to the market, Aptos ONE has been gaining momentum as more retailers trade their on-premise and monolithic software applications for next-gen SaaS solutions. VF Corp., which owns The North Face, Timberland, Dickies, and other brands, has been a strong partner of and advocate for Aptos. VF was one of our earliest adopters of Aptos ONE. We have many other clients on the Aptos ONE journey with us, including The Vitamin Shoppe, New Balance and Cole Haan. In 2022, Aptos had record transaction volumes for Aptos ONE POS, and we expect that growth to further accelerate in 2023.

The consumer is moving fast and forcing retail to evolve to keep up. It’s about speed. Aptos ONE offers a way to be future ready while simplifying the technology footprint — even as devices, locations, channels, and consumer expectations change. I think this year will be great for retailers who are looking ahead and turning to technology that helps them thrive amid constant disruption.

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