Retail 4.0: How technology is driving the move from products to experiences
For a number of years now, the evolution of the Retail sector has typically been positioned as brick-and-mortar shops - including many longstanding fixtures of UK highstreets - fighting a losing battle against online retailers, such as the seemingly monolithic Amazon. However, the reality of the situation is not quite so clear cut…
The challenges of lockdown drive innovation
As with other sectors, the Retail organisations that have weathered the challenges of multiple lockdowns are the ones who have demonstrated ingenuity, persistence, and a willingness to innovate. For example, with most professionals working in city centres now working remotely, the coffee shops they would frequent daily were left with zero footfall. However, rather than simply close, forward-thinking coffee chains - such as Costa - simply collaborated with their technology partners to ensure their customers could continue to get their daily coffee while still adhering to COVID guidelines.
This meant the rapid roll-out of drive-through coffee shops around the country, and the deployment of digital menus and click-and-collect ordering - something which proved an instant hit with many customers.
Laying the technology foundation for a new kind of shopping experience
Of course, for these innovations to deliver their full potential, they must be built on a robust, scalable infrastructure that will ensure consistent performance and availability at sites across the UK, for all staff and customers. In order to guarantee a seamless deployment, with minimal disruption to the customer experience, new solutions must be properly integrated with legacy systems, without introducing any security vulnerabilities that could potentially be exploited. Furthermore, this new model for interconnected customer experiences will place considerable demands on connectivity, which means a high-performance network is vital. Taking these challenges into account, it is unsurprising that digital transformation has becoming a key priority for retailers, working closely with their technology partners to bring their infrastructure into this new era.
Delivering immersive, premium-quality experiences through technology
Although this way of making coffee more widely available, while adhering social distancing requirements, initially demonstrated how the Retail sector managed the challenges of lockdown, it soon opened a number of new doors where customer experience was concerned. The implementation of these technologies delivered seamless, convenient experiences, which is just the start of what is truly possible across the sector.
With more advanced innovations, manipulating data to enhance service quality and provide personalised shopping experiences can further add to an increase in customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and repeat visits.
We are already seeing these principles put into practice at a number of pioneering forecourts across the UK, where the use of remote payments and digital menus will allow for a deep insight into customer behaviour, allowing for truly personalised, bespoke experiences to be automated. For example, when a visitor connects to charge their car, their regular coffee could be automatically ordered for them, or even a booking made at the gym, or one of the featured restaurants. In this way, the Retail sector will be able to maintain that all-important human touch, while simultaneously introducing a level of efficiency that would previously have been inconceivable.
Turning visitors into repeat customers
With online shopping now omnipresent in our lives, it is easier than ever for consumers to access the products they want, whenever they want them - often with a single click. However, in spite of the convenience this offers, it's no subject for a personalised, immersive experience, tailored to each customer's tastes and requirements, with digital signage and real-time pricing updates. While the past two years of technological innovation across the Retail sector may have initially been to maintain business-as-usual as much as possible, they have provided retailers with a wide range of powerful tools to reinforce this, and ensure customers return just as much for the experience as the products and services.
With this philosophy in place, and the technology infrastructure to support it, the high street will be set to not just survive, but thrive in the emerging post-COVID world.
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