Jan 19, 2021

Unlocking the Future of Retail Through Digital Transformation

This article was originally published on Sourcing Journal.

The only constant in retail is change. As retail leaders strive to shed outdated strategies, the industry collectively responds with innovation and technology to unlock the New Next. In 2020 the global pandemic created a digital revolution and accelerated the need to get closer to the customer. Customers’ needs changed overnight and the role of the store pivoted to meet these demands, while enterprises scrambled to respond to the global impact on the retail supply chain.

If there’s one positive to this turbulent last year, it’s that the digital revolution spotlighted where retailers’ business models can improve. Those learnings have quickly evolved into opportunities and incentives to explore new capabilities–and chart a more defined path forward. As brands advance their digital transformations in this new climate, we’ve examined how cutting-edge technology changes the narrative for three key players: the store, the customer, and the enterprise itself.

The evolution of the store

It appears the much-rumored irrelevance of the physical store was exaggerated. Yes, the pandemic has introduced complications to the brick-and-mortar shopping experience like sanitization and safety protocols. The pandemic also hastened the evolution of the store into its promising future.

In essence, Covid-19 has reframed the value of the store in an exciting new way. It is no longer just a physical representation of the brand experience, siloed off from the digital side. With the infusion of machine learning, stores can expand to become efficient distribution points that enhance customer relationships and serve local communities.

In the next chapter of brick-and-mortar, larger brands may optimize their store space as they cordon off areas for creative fulfillment strategies such as curbside pick-up, self-checkout, and buy online pickup in- store (BOPIS). This new wave could encourage more partnerships with complementary brands, allowing stores to maximize footfall while considering the utility of their overall space. While store associates’ responsibilities will evolve, people will still be essential for cultivating personal connections with shoppers and fulfilling journeys that can’t be replicated online.

Pivot to customer

For retailers, the next chapter of retail is all about serving the customers and maintaining their loyalty. Through personalized offers and services, retailers can attract potential one-time buyers to become lifelong advocates.

Many stores implemented short term in-store fulfillment strategies that shepherded retailers through the pandemic. But brands can go further to automate these experiences at speed and scale. For example, a brand might analyze customer data to understand the demographics better and deliver an experience that anticipates their needs. The retailer can retain this data to educate the associate, so the customer enjoys a consistent brand experience across channels. Further down the road, perhaps customers won’t even need to leave home to be proactively served.

Agile enterprises 

Amid the pandemic, those retailers who had a single view of their inventories, customers, and orders universally outperformed their peer group. That operational advantage enabled certain brands to personalize their customer experience better and drive greater internal efficiencies.

For enterprises, many of these improvements will come in areas where customers don’t experience them directly. Amid a fractured supply chain, machine learning can enable more accurate forecasting, compelling pricing, and efficient sourcing through predictive analytics. And retailers can streamline and automate the laborious manual processes of inventory management, giving store employees more time to focus on strategic tasks.

Today’s retail solutions can help remove points of friction from the purchasing process, accelerating retailers toward an omnichannel world and showing the pathway to maximize profits – all while providing a top-of-the-line customer experience.

Unlocking endless possibilities 

Put simply, digital transformation must not be limited to any one area of the business. Truly effective innovation is about harmonizing and leveraging the use of technology throughout the entire enterprise – from the brand website to the storeroom floor – and reaping the rewards.

The memorable experience of tomorrow will require innovative solutions at every level, with retailers empowering creativity and inventing new business models along the way. In the lengthy history of retail, few climactic events have kick-started a revolution like Covid-19. Now, the only question that remains is, what are the keys to a retailer’s future?

Image via Sourcing Journal

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