Converged Experience: A Fundamental Expectation for Retail Sector in The New Normal

Today, customers want retailers to know and delight them across touch-points be itbrick-and-mortar stores, mobile app, websites, shopping kiosks, or call centers.
Converged Experience: A Fundamental Expectation for Retail Sector in The New Normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered almost every facet of most people’s lives across the world – be it the way they work, travel or shop. Many industries are changing their business models in sync with the new normal – the retail sector must face radical shifts in customer expectations and behavior. Today, customers want retailers to know and delight them across touch-points be it brick-and-mortar stores, mobile app, websites, shopping kiosks, or call centers. They expect retailers to provide experience continuity, know their preferences and fulfillment choices, irrespective of the channel. In essence, they are seeking a converged experience.

There has been a paradigm shift in customer behavior as shown in a recent survey by IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) - customers will not abandon the online shopping options they became accustomed to using during the pandemic. On the other hand, retailers are facing a myriad of challenges, as COVID-induced lockdowns either shuttered stores or reduced footfalls at those that are open; shopping malls are taking a bigger blow with less than 50 percent footfalls, as per various estimates.

Retailers can now no longer use conventional methods to forecast demand, manage inventories and customer relationships online in the new normal. To cater to the evolving customer and contend with future disruptions, retailers should look beyond omnichannel commerce – it is now necessary to embrace the converged commerce and fulfillment strategy. 

And to offer a converged experience, retailers need to reinvent their customer engagement, revamp their supply chains, and remodel the foundation with cognitive technologies.

Reinventing Customer Engagement 

Today, customers are carefully planning their spending - when they make a purchase, they want more value for money and instant gratification. In this scenario, retailers must understand their customers better and provide personalized solutions. For instance, apparel and jewelry retailers need to take the concept of in-store and mobile app virtual trial to the next level, wherein customers can see how they will look in a particular product and also get recommendations on the specific pattern or color that will suit them by applying technologies such as Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Joyalukkas, India’s leading jewelry retailer, recently embarked on a digital journey to provide a seamless and continuous consumer experience across any device or location. By leveraging a design thinking methodology, it identified and narrowed down its target audience which includes millennials and traditional gold buyers. These insights are enabling the company to tailor a uniquely personalized country-specific experience for each of their customers on an entirely new cloud-native e-commerce platform.

Further, as customers are unlikely to sift through generic mass promotions that often make their way to spam, retailers now must create customized promotions by using analytics and AI that can be delivered across channels. However, merely improving customer engagement in isolation will not help them create a converged experience; they need to revamp their supply chains so they can forecast demand, manage inventory, introduce new fulfillment options, and bring about visibility and traceability more effectively and efficiently, so the entire customer lifecycle becomes seamless.

Revamping Supply Chains

Increasingly, customers are facing delays and cancellation of their purchased goods as retailers are facing challenges in predicting demand - as historical data does not reflect factors like demographics, local events, weather, news, and changes in local regulations. Retailers can combine insights from store point of sale and e-commerce for the right product assortments at the right location at the right time to serve customers better. They can move from monthly planning into continuous planning, automate repetitive tasks and improve inventory positions and management by leveraging emerging technologies like AI and automation. With new technologies, they can improve the management of orders and deliver new fulfillment options – home delivery, curbside pick-up, delivery lockers, etc.

A great instance of this is India’s largest selling biscuit brand Parle Products, which has been leveraging an intelligent AI-based supply chain to measure and monitor the health of their business processes and their outcomes. These intelligent workflows further fuel Parle's agenda on appropriate product mix, faster planning and scheduling, and optimized supply chain costs.

Supply chains can also be enhanced to create visibility and traceability resulting in transparency for end customers, link stakeholders across the value chain, and build a secure and decentralized network of supplier information by using Blockchain technology.

Having bolstered the customer engagement and the supply chain, the last step in bringing about a converged experience is remodeling the foundation for the future.

Remodel Foundation with Cognitive Technologies

Cloud computing is the foundational platform for deploying innovative applications of emerging technologies like AI, ML, IoT, and Big Data Analytics. Hybrid cloud can foster improved agility and performance for retailers by reducing complexity and bringing new capabilities to the fore. 

With modern architecture, retailers can introduce lower-cost operating models and increase operational efficiency. And with multiple applications running in multiple platforms across clouds (public and on-premise), a hybrid multi-cloud enables retailers to build workflows across different platforms.

To summarize, in the new normal, it is time for retailers to unlock the potential for more resilient, sustainable, and customer-centric business models. Emerging technologies can help them become smarter, more agile, and empower them to meet evolving customer needs by providing a converged experience for customers. With converged experience, retailers can unify the experience across digital and physical, drive growth and customer engagement across channels with increased conversion rates and higher up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.

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