How can offline retailers meet online expectations?

Physical retailers are investing in tech to compete with e-commerce. Should they focus on the human element instead?

Consumers have big expectations for retailers today.

No longer are express delivery and free returns options nice-to-haves— competition in the thriving e-commerce space means members are vying to quench consumers’ need for instant gratification.

At the same time, retailers are forced to hammer down prices across ever-expanding ranges thanks to price comparison tools and price-matching offers, making profits tighter than ever.

While it’s tough out there in the digital realm, consumer expectations are overlapping into the physical world of retail too.

Seeking an online experience

According to UK research commissioned by REPL Group, more than half of CIOs and CTOs are investing in technology in a bid to “match” and compete against the online shopping experience.

The report found that retailers are looking to technology that helps provide real-time stock availability and delivery from the store as they seek to create a frictionless high-street shopping experience.

“It’s no secret that retailers are struggling with a number of challenges, however, the ones that are performing more successfully are those that are matching the differentiator of having a physical infrastructure with the capabilities of a digital environment,” said Mike Callender, Executive Chairman of REPL Group.

Callendar said this approach can play an advantage against their online competitors, in that they can maximize the benefits of a physical store while providing the immediacy customers demand.

However, just a “handful” of retailers are able to pull off this innovative approach, and it’s often limited to their flagship store.

Specifically, some of the tech retail IT heads are looking at includes AI as the highest priority (40 percent), IoT networks (26 percent), and robotic process automation (17 percent).

At the root of utilization for this tech is turning data into action, such as ensuring the right stock is available at the right time, maximizing the impact of dwindling footfall and increasing chances of an impulse purchase.

Real-time stock availability (49 percent) and offering delivery from the store (46 percent) were high priorities.

Meanwhile, mobile apps were an investment for close to two-thirds of retailers (59 percent), owed to apps becoming central to consumers’ purchasing habits today.


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