Retailers are ramping up their investment in technology, realizing that data insight and enhanced, personalized service can help them differentiate and get ahead of the competition. Subsequently, we will see spend on the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) increase significantly over the next couple of years.
Analyst firm IDC, for example, predicts that retail will lead the industry in cognitive/AI spending in 2018 investing $3.4 billion on AI systems this year. This includes customer service agents, product recommendations and shopping advisers across omnichannel operations, as well as promotional offers.
Retailers are taking a lead from Amazon, which has made AI insights the nerve center of its ever expanding empire. It can predict demand and optimize pricing and discounts in real-time in accordance with the market.
Technology to engage the Customer
The idea that bricks-and-mortar stores have had their day has been partly put to rest. Instead retailers are looking to use technology to attract consumers to purchase online and in store. For them the online presence could be a virtual shop window that entices customers to come instore to look and feel the products they want. In addition, stores have the added bonus of being a click and collect facility.
Personalization is essential for success. Retailers are doing anything in their power to reach out to consumers, providing the personal touch and ultimately making shopping as convenient as possible. Great customer experience today is a careful mix of technology and the human touch. The 110-year old US store giant Neiman Marcus, for example, is leveraging big data analytics and machine learning to provide personalized offers.
Connectivity underpins omnichannel
Omnichannel customer service is required to provide consumers with a seamless and continuous shopping experience, whether they are shopping online or in store. Customers must be able to flip from one channel to the other, without disruption. To avoid losing customers to the competition, retailers require a sophisticated e-commerce platform backed by robust connectivity.
Clothing firm LC Waikiki, headquartered in Turkey, for example, is looking to become one of the three most successful fashion retailer brands in Europe by 2023. The retailing giant already trades from 757 stores in 36 countries. To achieve this goal it needs to grow its e-commerce business from 1.5 percent to 10 percent of its total revenues.
We worked with LC Waikiki to create a comprehensive e-commerce platform, linking sales, warehouse and the supply chain. High-speed internet access is core part of the solution and Orange Business is one of the few providers capable of offering this together with a flexible and customized cloud platform.
Taking personalization a step further, we have also developed a facial recognition solution for an international beauty retailer that will connect customer’s faces with their loyalty program profiles so that they can be sent truly personal beauty regime offerings.
Speeding up product to market
Some markets move very quickly. Take smart fashion. Consumers expect to see fashion retailers get trends off catwalks and create inexpensive versions for the high street as soon as collections have been shown in New York, London, Paris and Milan. Companies that can do this quickly – such as Spanish retailer Zara – are high street fashion’s big success stories.
Here technology can help behind the scenes. Melon Fashion Group has deployed a virtual fitting room solution using immersive video conferencing, allowing its designers to quickly collaborate with manufacturing for its three brands – Zarina, Love Republic and befree.
Melon’s design teams are in Russia, while its manufacturing facilities are in China. The company can lose weeks in its production schedule shipping sample garments between designers and the factory, tweaking designs and evaluating quality. With Melon’s virtual fitting room based on Open Video Presence from Orange Business changes can be made instantly.
Melon’s innovative solution shows how digital transformation is making a real difference to retailers’ competitive edge by improving collaboration and responsiveness to speed up getting products to market.
Today consumers are switched on. They know they want and expect a perfect customer journey from retailers. Retailers must be able to link sales and marketing across all their channels to provide the personalized shopping experience consumers increasingly expect. To do this retailers must collaborate with IT companies that can help them become more agile and responsive to a market that is continually in a state of flux.
Richard van Wageningen is CEO of Orange Business in Russia and CIS and is the Head the IMEAR (Indirect, Middle East, Africa and Russia) region. He has extensive leadership experience in the IT and telecommunications industries – both in services and equipment manufacturing – and holds degrees from Groningen State Polytechnics and the University of North Carolina. Richard has lived in Russia for more than 10 years and speaks fluent Russian.