Hi, I am your neighborhood chain store a few roads off your block, and this is my stor(e)y.
I belong to a large reputed family, and was born 25 years ago in the neighborhood of a busy suburb. In the beginning, my extended family nurtured me, and helped me establish myself as a one-stop-shop for all necessities and luxuries for the neighborhood. Soon, I became popular and grew in size and stature as many more people from near and far off locations began to visit me. My customers were happy to come to me for any occasion, select from the various choices I had to offer, engage with my household staff, and always left with promises to return soon.
Then, something changed. To begin with, I had fewer people visit. The kind of people who walked in had also change – customers walked in and left with nothing, they spoke less with my household staff, and they didn’t seem too happy about the choices I had to offer. They seemed to know something more about me than I knew myself.
What was happening?
As I observed and explored, I became cognizant of the change in social engagement, behavior, and expectations powered by technology innovation and consumption. My next generation was online and was growing in popularity tremendously. This gradually began to disrupted my existence, and it was time for me to learn again.
Firstly I learnt the power of data, became aware of the variety of technology, and followed it by learning the art of being agile. It was time for me to go about a systematic way of incorporating it into my being.
I focused on my 3 main priorities – My Customers, My Merchandize, and My Staff – and how I could reinvent my experience with all of them.
I started with listening to my Customers more closely. This meant understanding what they are saying both inside and outside of their interactions with me. I tapped into Social Technologies, and Customer Data solutions to gain better Customer Insights and upgrade the experience of a loyalty program member. I started accessing customer buying history, recognizing personal and social events, driving personalized marketing and effectively integrating with my online cousins. I became open to the concept of “engaging online, experiencing offline”. They could buy online, pick up in store; and they could buy in store and engage with their friends and family online to help decide a purchase. I brought people back into the store, by providing them a seamless buying experience across channels. I digitally enabled my IT systems with effective API architecture to be able to engage well with my customer devices, and other external systems for real time visibility to information. As for the future, I am also exploring solutions around smart cart and smart card which will recognize customers and personalize their shopping experience from the point of entry rather than wait for the opportunity at point of sale.
I also looked at how effectively I could manage and project my Merchandize to my customers. I set up self-help kiosks which could help provide customers a view of the endless aisles, product information, product comparisons, and to the extent of price comparisons where possible. I could drive more orders in my bakery sales with upfront kiosk ordering systems, while customers could continue with their shopping journey. I am also exploring with my distant cousins on how they are using robotics for better planogram management, instore inventory checks and also providing cognitive assistance on the shop floor, and drive further footfall.
Then I decided to understand my Staff. I reviewed where they were spending their time, and considered mobile solutions to move them from back office functions to front office engagement. Time is money, and to cash in on the experience of time during checkout, I explored the power of mobile POS devices to introduce queueless checkouts, which has worked well in certain electronic formats. I further opted into centralizing back office functions around workforce management, finance and accounting for further efficiencies and cost leverage in the store. I mobile enabled my staff to have more real-time information to products, price comparisons, and ability to personalize offers. This helped my staff become more knowledgeable about products, personalize engagement with customers, and convert the points of interaction into points of sale.
However, the story hasn’t ended here with a “…happily ever after” yet, as innovation will continue to disrupt. However, the lesson for all retailers, like me, is to be agile, become fit for the future, and to be able to change with change. We should now be open to quickly experiment, evaluate new technology. Currently, we have learnt to co-exist with newer technologies such as cognitive, mobililty, IoT, security and platforms like cloud to create an experience that is seamlessly fulfilling and engaging for my customers. For larger chains, it is also a good idea to work with the main company to re-evaluate and not limit your role as a transaction point for selling, but also to extend each outlet into providing a superior customer experience and engagement that can create a strong brand affinity for the family.
As for my story, I have now changed from being the pot-bellied middle aged person with suspenders, to being the new multi-generation hipster avatar who will high-five you at the corner of the street and cheerfully ask “Hey pal… What’s in store?”.
The article has been pen down by Sashank Rao Yaragudipati, Industry leader for Retail at the IBM Global Innovation Centre.