Retail isn’t dead — far from it. But that doesn’t mean times aren’t changing for stores everywhere. Perhaps the most popular sentiment during The National Retail Federation’s Big Show this year was that customer demands are skyrocketing. With more choices than ever, shoppers expect retail stores to fire on all cylinders — online, in-store, mobile, across channels — and retailers are digging in to seek ways to deliver across all platforms.
“Twenty, even 10 years ago, retail interactions were so focused on the store. They still are today, but you then need to think about all the other places you need to meet your customer across every single touchpoint, whether that be on Instagram, on social media, whether that be on their mobile phone, whether that be in a marketing campaign,” Oracle’s Senior Director of Product Strategy Katrina Gosek tells BizTech.
Several retailers and experts at the conference shared stories that offer valuable insights into how they are tackling this new landscape. Here are three takeaways from the show:
1. Big Data and Analytics Take Retail to the Next Level
For retailers right now, no resource is more precious than data.
This is particularly true as brands seek to personalize customer experiences online. Gosek notes that collecting data across all touchpoints and bringing it together is key to crafting a personalized customer journey.
But in-store operations can also see a boost from data. Chick-fil-A and Home Depot are using the data visualization tool Tableau to obtain insights into operations and solve problems they previously didn’t even know existed.
Almost anything can become data. George Bentinck, product manager at Cisco Meraki, explained in a panel with CDW at the show how brands can tap data from surveillance footage to extrapolate insights about how to improve the in-store experience.
“Knowing where people are, where they go, and doing that in real time can be applied to a whole host of business problems,” said Bentinck.
2. The Big Data Boom Prompts the Need for Data Privacy
But with this data influx comes a number of concerns around how to use and secure it. For this reason, Sucharita Kodali, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, told attendees during a keynote presentation that data security is one of the most critical challenges facing retailers at the moment.
“Data security is hugely important, not just because of the compliance needs of retailers and brands, but also because of the legislation and the requirements of everything from the California Consumer Privacy Act to GDPR, and probably a lot more coming down the pike,” said Kodali.
She also points to a study in which 17 percent of consumers note they don’t want brands collecting or tracking any personal information.
“It’s important to recognize that and to make sure you’re not personalizing to those people,” said Kodali. “Often, as marketers, as retailers, we forget that consumers belong to different segments, and you have to adjust. That is the very heart of personalization.”
3. Artificial Intelligence Takes Hold in Retail
Artificial intelligence has begun infiltrating. In fact, 51 percent of retailers have already begun to use AI for customer intelligence, while 48 percent are using it for demand forecasting, and 38 percent are using the tech for pricing and promotion, according to a joint survey of 1,900 retail executives by NRF and IBM released at the show.
“We’re really at a transformation point where AI is fusing with machine learning capabilities so that people can really process all the data and information they have on customers, on their supply chain, and it’s really ready to sort of take off,” Katherine Cullen, director of retail and consumer insights for NRF tells BizTech.
Online retailer zulily has already started to tap intelligent automation in order to better craft personalized customer journeys and engage the customer “where she lives,” explained zulily Vice President of Engineering Bindu Thota at the show.
“Every place where we touch them, we personalize it for them. We are literally talking to them, and we leverage automation and machine learning to do that,” she said. “What you see when you come to the zulily site is very different from what I see, and that is part of our business model and in our DNA from day one.”
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