The mountains of logo-stamped cardboard placed on the curb every recycling day is an obvious sign of how dramatically retail has changed.
The confusion of the early pandemic may be behind us, but the shopping behaviors it inspired are here to stay. A recent study showed that 64% of shoppers said a hybrid of in-store and online was their main method of shopping in the previous six months.1 In this moment marked by inflation, high gas prices, and logistical bottlenecks, neither big box stores nor supermarkets remain the “face” of retail. The storefront is just one piece of a seamless omnichannel experience consumers now expect from brands, hyper-personalized at every touchpoint.
Putting this all together, it’s clear that as we move into our new normal, customers don’t want to go back to how retail used to be. That isn’t to say they’ve given up on physical retail spaces, only that their role within the larger omnichannel experience has evolved. One study found that 84% of shoppers felt that online shopping will never fully replace in-person shopping experiences.2 Blending physical space and e-commerce will be essential to stay competitive and finding more innovative ways to utilize the storefront is key to that shift.
Building more agile supply chains to keep up with 21st century consumer expectations is also critical. The pandemic sped up a trend toward e-commerce that already existed while also revealing weaknesses in the global supply chain that had previously gone unnoticed. Baby formula, furniture, and computer chips—to say nothing of preventative and life-saving medical equipment—have all been delayed by disruptions due to the pandemic, global conflicts, demand spikes, and more.
Going forward, success will come down to how well businesses embrace digital transformation. The ability to capture and use data to derive insights and make predictions isn’t just useful in an unforeseen global emergency—it’s what it’s going to take to succeed as a business in the 21st century.
Savvy businesses will embrace digital transformation
To stay competitive, retail brands must offer a personalized omnichannel experience that can meet consumers’ unique needs at every touchpoint, get their products to them responsibly and reliably, and still utilize the physical storefront. Retailers that began their digital transformation journeys prior to 2020 were well-positioned to adapt, while those who hadn’t struggled.
To stay in the game, businesses must adapt on three fronts.
Transforming the retail experience
It isn’t that storefronts are dead—far from it. Physical space is still an extremely powerful tool within a retailer’s arsenal, especially when used correctly. Personalized shopping experiences, technology-empowered associates, intelligent workflows, and optimized operations can all be leveraged to put square footage to effective use.
Retailers that figure out how to recontextualize their physical space to fit updated consumer expectations will thrive in the new normal.
Building an agile supply chain
Supply chain and logistical disruptions have cut across nearly all industries the past few years, from consumer product goods and automotive to tech and more. To continue to succeed, retail businesses must ensure they can put the products their customers are paying for in their hands when they expect it. A recent study showed that 71% of consumers polled said they’d be more likely to purchase a product if the seller guaranteed two-day delivery.3
Brands that embrace digital transformation will be able to predict demand and respond with engagement, assortment, stores, and services, a key differentiator.
Creating a unified retail enterprise
Finally, customers expect retail businesses to know who they are and what they want every time they engage with them—regardless of when, where, or how. Whether the customer is popping into a local storefront for customer support, looking up products online, or browsing virtual shelves in the metaverse, brands must create a seamless, engaging experience.
Investing in the infrastructural and operational transformation that will power this seamless omnichannel customer experience (not to mention making it something customers enjoy engaging with) will be crucial in the years to come.
The proof is in the profits
As a CTO and trusted consultant for dozens of retail brands, I’ve watched digital-first brands not just surmount obstacles, but leverage them as a competitive disruptor.
One client, a high-end luxury retailer with multiple physical locations, wanted to build a differentiating customer experience on a limited budget. We worked with them to integrate multiple inventory systems, allowing workers to be more responsive to shoppers’ needs in-store. As a result, shoppers were able to request products from their personal shopping area while engaging with a personal shopper, or order items shipped to their homes.
Another client, a furniture retailer looking to expand their supply chain, needed to reduce their bandwidth costs while improving their own interconnectivity. We installed a network infrastructure that increased visibility and access to inventory data across our chain, improved inter-store communication, and powered more telephony in the cloud. This lowered network operational costs nearly 40% while increasing overall bandwidth and connectivity, assuring 24/7 uptime and access. With their costs lowered and bandwidth increased, they were free to explore emerging technology.
Lastly, we helped Carrefour Belgium move their entire on-prem data center to the cloud. Their data center was subject to frequent overheating with little to no warning, causing service interruptions and delays (to say nothing of how often it forced team members to drop their personal lives and respond immediately). We migrated 400 servers in the basement of their headquarters and 100% of their on-prem core systems to a single modern, centralized operating environment in a Kyndryl cloud data center. With their operations in the cloud, they’re no longer tied to the day-to-day issues of physical servers, and are set up to begin the next step of their digital transformation journey.
Whatever the “new normal” post-pandemic reality will be, it’s being built now. Businesses that anticipate how customer expectations will evolve and move first to meet them will be the ones that find success. Resilient IT is essential to providing the uninterrupted omnichannel experience today’s consumers expect while still maintaining a unified and invigorating retail enterprise.
Read more from Kayla about how technology innovation is transforming retail.