Online and offline needs to work in harmony to create a better retail experience for everyone

In the ever evolving retail sector it can be challenging to forecast what’s ahead, but one thing for certain is that digital transformation will play a large part in securing the future of retailers. Here’s what I believe is in store for retail in 2019:

Multichannel innovation

Retailers are already experimenting with a variety of new technologies to see how they can push the boundaries of the customer experience. In this tough market having a cohesive multi-channel offering is critical in order to ensure you have a brand that will resonate and communicate authentically with your audience, inviting them to buy and engage with your products. This means that no touch point can disappoint, if your consumers are provided with an inspiring, technology-led in-store experience then your app, website, social media and experiential channels need to maintain that level of innovation.

Although bricks-and-mortar stores can easily stand out from one another through their immersive experiences, consumers purchasing from behind a screen are still removed. Brands need to focus on constantly improving their online offerings and refreshing their capabilities. Too many retailers think that the answers to their online innovation quests come through using plugins, but these are rarely future proof and don’t set them apart from the crowd.

Retailers need to look at a more bespoke approach, so their screen presence stands out as much as their stores do. By having a unique back and front end, retailers can tailor their abilities to suit their individual customer base, not just keep up with the Joneses.

Whether it’s by designing a platform to better understand the data that their customers are sharing, or implementing some experience- based technology that sets their app apart from the rest of the e-commerce world, retailers who can tailor the technology to their specific customer base will be the ones that succeed.

Ringing up the register

There’s been a lot of suggestion that bricks-and-mortar stores are becoming regarded as showrooms by consumers, but retailers are increasingly investing in technology to improve their in-store experiences and drive footfall and sales. Brands are looking beyond smart mirrors and virtual reality and moving towards focusing on more software advancements. Gartner has identified software as the fastest growing expenditures in the retail sector and there’s certainly evidence of this. Boots, for example, recently purchased health tech company Wiggly-Amps in order to strengthen its digital healthcare services and meet the growing consumer needs.

This kind of additional investment is set to benefit retailers however, with Gartner citing that physical retail is on the rise with the global sales from physical retail up by 4.8% in 2018. That’s not to say e-commerce retailers will miss out, just that there will be an improved coexistence.

Analysis through artificial intelligence

There’s been a lot of development in the area of Artificial Intelligence (AI). In fact, when it comes to providing a personalised experience this technology could just be the retailers best friend.

Personalised experiences are what every customer and retailer is aiming for but in order to practice what is preached retailers will be adopting more of this technology. Some have already started to put AI to use through helping online shoppers with size suggestions.

While this is a small element it can have a big impact by negating the need for customers to travel to and spend time at the post office to return multiple sizes of items. It can also reduce the confusion for customers when it comes to purchasing the item, rather than having to look at the image and decide if they think the item will be oversized, snug, etc, AI can perform that calculation for them and make the selection process quicker and easier.

Sizing is just the start. Moving forward we’ll see more retailers offering customised suggestions, basing products on those previously bought or even those the customer has liked through social media platforms. Through using AI in this way retailers will be able to more effectively analyse their customer interactions and offer a more relevant experience to each individual.

The retail sector has the opportunity to create some big changes in customer experience in 2019. Having a multichannel mindset is key in order to maintain consumer trust and loyalty, and relevant technology should be embraced across all touch points. Although Brexit may have an impact on consumer spending, this doesn’t mean retailers should rule out any hope of making this year a success.

By using the right software and technology retailers can truly improve their customer experience and give consumers the added value they need in order to justify using their services or products. By using tools such as AI to accurately analyse what the customer is looking for and reduce the frictions involved in the purchasing process, retailers can not only inspire more spending but shape the shopping landscape.

This year should see bricks-and-mortar stores and e-commerce sites working in harmony to design a better retail experience for everyone.

Zoe Cunningham is CEO of Softwire.

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