At MRF’s Retail Business Owners & CEO Conclave, Mark Thomson, retail industry director for the EMEA at Zebra Technologies, focused on how mobility benefits retailers around the world, quoting examples and case studies and presenting a short video of fashion brand Zara.
The shopper journey has numerous interruption points so it’s hard to keep shoppers engaged through the journey and harder still to influence their shopping behaviour. Where should retailers start and what should be the first step they take on this omni-channel journey where online, social media and mobile are giving consumers a wealth of choices on how to engage, interact and shop?
Mark Thomson, retail industry director – EMEA, Zebra Technologies, believes mobility is the key to omni-channel retailing, because it’s not just about the device but about the experience and convenience offered to customers.
“Shopper engagement is now more prolonged. Engagement and interaction can last significantly after the product is purchased – in terms of writing a product review, videotaping it for You Tube or talking about it on social media. All this feeds into the web so retailers need to have a presence across all these touch-points to guide shoppers at various stages,” he says.
“Mobility enables shoppers to move around and shop from wherever they are, whenever they want and through whatever channel they prefer. The challenge from a retail perspective is to provide them with the ability to do all the above, to make the customer the centre of the retailer’s universe. That’s why customer-centricity is a more appropriate term than omni-channel, because it enables retailers to rethink their business focusing on the customer,” Thomson elaborates.
There’s another side to mobility – within the retail business, which means enabling store staff to be mobile so they’re not just doing operational tasks but are available to serve customers. In the ideal world, it means retailers strive to ensure each customer’s size and colour choice is available through effective stock management.
“It’s now about how consumers want to buy, not how retailers and brands want to sell, because consumers are in control of the path to purchase. However, it’s the retail staff that leads the omni-channel and customer engagement process. So the store staff should have the tools to help in an effective retail environment. They should remain connected to product availability and other information regarding the product, such as accessories, materials, source, reviews etc, helping customers make better, assured decisions faster. Stock taking, which usually takes at least a day, now takes about 30 minutes. This means more time to engage with customers. Better inventory management also means cost reduction, keeping the finance team happy as well,” Thomson explains.
For a retailer, employing technology is a journey, not a destination, he emphasises. So experimenting with new technologies means getting used to the idea of ‘fail fast, succeed faster’.
“Gartner predicts that by next year, IT spend by retail marketing teams will be higher than that by retail IT teams. Zebra Technologies works with retailers in many ways to excite them and help them realise a new vision for the future of retail built on mobility. We base our discussions on three pillars — connecting with shoppers and knowing what they want even before they do; enabling in-store staff to do more than ever with the right tools; and empowering IT as a force for change,” avers Thomson.
He warns retailers not to be intimidated by what’s highlighted in the media about how global retail giants understand technology, figure out its complexities, and invest in it.
“The truth is nobody’s got it right yet because new questions keep arising. Most technology solutions are being piloted in flagship stores and have yet to be implemented across store networks globally. That’s a positive indicator of how retailers are willing to test and trial new technology solutions to boost their businesses. In fact, they should be testing such solutions more than what they’re doing presently,” says Thomson.
“Big data has no value by itself. It’s not until retailers analyse big data and distribute it to the right people in the business, allowing them to act on it, that they can create value. Historically, retail IT departments focused mostly on providing IT support, and the most significant IT system employed by retailers has been the checkout system. A lot of retailers worldwide who were cautious previously are now trying different kinds of technology at the same time in different stores to determine what works best for them, and that will depend on the directions their customers will take and how they plan to engage with them,” concludes Thomson.