There are two things about retail remaining constant no matter what – fewer costs, more target consumers. Means differ though, and the environment around retail is never the same. This is what makes it even more exciting. Dmitry Smirnov, Retail Business Development Director at CROC, shares insights of his detailed study on key technology trends in the market.

Retail overview

Driven by strong urge to win customers, business adopts the fanciest retail technology, whether it’s a mainstream app and cobranding or something quirky like AR, VR or a robot salesperson. However, adopting technology for technology’s sake is wrong on every conceivable level. Take the first days of 2020 lockdown for example, when the axioms “online sales or death” and “once you go online, you’ll never go back” spread faster than the virus. Most of retailers turned into lemmings rushing to spend budgets on this new sales channel and respective infrastructure. And what’s the outcome? Statistics show that online sales grew by 3% only as those who preferred offline shopping before the pandemic went straight back to their previous habits once the lockdown was over. However, retailers have already spent budgets and, of course, this can’t be undone.

We always strongly advise to map out and follow an individual digital adoption strategy.

Boost customer experience and gain an advantage with retail technology

Handling intense competition and keeping up with ever-increasing customer demands are challenging, especially when you are expected to provide more than services of excellent quality. Providing those services in the most convenient way for the customer, that’s the key. Since different customer groups interpret convenience differently, retailers are gradually moving away from a one-sided approach. Online and offline in their pure form are ceasing to exist, giving way to an omnichannel approach.

Today, for example, large offline retailers provide delivery services, and do so quite successfully, while “digital natives” are opening real-life delivery points and showrooms.

Otto Group is another great example of digital transformation. The company used to distribute products only through catalogs, but today it has so much diversity to offer to its customer willing to make an order: website, call center, showrooms, stores, and even outlets.

The interesting side of this trend is that hypermarkets are slowly losing ground. The point of offline retail today is to be as close as possible to as many customers as possible. After all, if there are several different stores down the road, why will you take a long journey to a large hypermarket once a week? This is why retailer business strategies concentrated on those convenience stores and minimarkets, especially during the pandemic.

Moreover, to improve shopping experience, retailers widely leverage personal data collection to reveal customer behavior patterns. To achieve this, digital marketing specialists analyze social networks, reactions to offers, receipts, loyalty cards, and much more. Traditional retailers from the real world analyze video footage and how customers move around the store, as well as geopositioning, emotional response to ads, etc.

The collected information results in a 360-degree customer profile based on which a salesperson then creates opportunities for impulse buying or tempting deal.

Almost everyone, even the smallest retailer, has access to customer personal data to a certain extent. Therefore, data collection, analysis, and storage are not the priority investment, the tools to leverage data are.

Winning customers depends on the company’s ability to make use of this information when, instead of pushing customers to buy the services, the retailer makes appropriate offers in the right place and at the right time.

Retail paradigm shift

Today, infrastructure outsourcing saves a lot of trouble. A company no longer needs to hire many people, when it can simply outsource the job to contractors and, partially, neural networks.

In fact, neural networks are quite commonly used to study customer behavior and marketing activities, and seem quite promising for the task of automating retail back office processes. For example, a neural network can be trained using historical statistical data and publicly available information to calculate the most effective price for particular products, groups, and entire product categories. That’s for starters. The real stuff comes when prices can be automatically calculated several times throughout the day and immediately displayed on the shelves by staff or with the help of “smart price tags”. This is the most efficient way to manage both the stock of goods, especially those with limited shelf life, and keep reasonable margins.

Another retail technology use case is automated stock management. The system can be customized depending on input data and training settings and configured to ensure minimum stock, maximum profit, and easy replenishment in terms of both schedule and volume. Some retailers use neural networks for demand forecasting, and some, like H&M, for assortment planning.

Increased digital maturity

Since the environment and customer demands are changing faster than ever before, business also needs tools to make quick decisions.

A technologically advanced retailer is the one that has automated the large portion of business processes and digital maturity of which is significantly above the average.

However, once the retailer realizes the need for a fast-paced digital journey, it will inevitably face stubborn implementation terms and prices. This why, unfortunately, most retailers go for solving local challenges and implement small projects with the shortest payback time instead of a full journey.

As for trends in the field of trade and cash register solutions, smart price tag technologies have become less expensive, thus allowing retailers to save labor costs and almost instantly update price tags on the shelves. Self-checkouts have become quite popular, unlike a couple of years ago, when only European innovators were brave enough to use them.

The Internet of Things with its smart shelves and RFID tags on goods reduces labor costs when replenishing shelves: when the quantity of goods drops to a certain level, the merchandiser is notified to get some more onto shelves.

Forecasting is at best a thankless task, especially in uncertain times like now. However, digital solutions are not just another retail trick or magic wand, but an integral part of some retail areas. Therefore, to avoid unnecessary investment, don’t follow others mindlessly, but find your own path towards changes.

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