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GUEST COMMENT The data dance-off for retail’s digital pioneers

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For too long the retail market has been like a school disco. Digital disruptors are owning the dancefloor and traditional bricks and mortar stores sitting awkwardly, waiting for it all to be over.

This high school drama shouldn’t be a reality in retail.

Competing with industry giants doesn’t have to be an online-only battle. In-store environments are still critical to building customer loyalty, creating memorable, and most importantly, personalised brand experiences. By striking the right balance between pioneering technology and faultless performance, bricks and mortar retailers can compete with the personalised customer service offered online.

Retailers have been at the forefront of tech innovation for more than ten years. From the ecommerce boom and mobile shopping to AI customer service and shoppable posts on Instagram, retailers haven’t been afraid to innovate. The greatest challenges now are how to pioneer new innovation and personalise experiences, while ensuring reliable performance of the technology underpinning customer services.

The bar is set high with new players like Amazon Fresh continually reinventing what it means to shop and, increasingly, shifting the focus online. Bricks and mortar stores have, mistakenly, been side-lined and not seen as an asset in the battle for customer loyalty. This is changing. As shoppers seek the convenience of online shopping, physical stores are tapping into the power of the “experience economy”.

Traditional players have an advantage thanks to their extensive networks of bricks and mortar stores. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods is a crucial example of what’s possible when online and offline experiences are seamlessly connected. When it comes to the physical store, success is determined by the personalised experience created for the customer. Retailers now use innovative technology to engage with the customer, envelop them into the brand environment and nurture customer loyalty, from browsing to purchase. You rarely now pop into Topshop to grab a T-shirt and be done.

Instead, you go to enjoy the in-house DJ, meet the personal shoppers, get your hair blow dried and eat highly decorated doughnuts. This multisensory, immersive, unique and, highly shareable experience is becoming the new normal for shops looking to compete on their turf.

As the number of touchpoints with customers increase in-store, so does the amount of data retailers can analyse and learn from in real-time. Every in-store service is underpinned by software and applications meaning that multi-channel retailers are getting to know their customers better, their likes, dislikes, purchasing triggers and personal interests. This means that the battleground for success, both online and offline, no longer only lies with providing pioneering, new consumer apps, it’s how retailers combine the insight from all of their customer touch points that matter most.

If retailers can analyse multi-channel data and turn this into insight, they can further innovate and refine their services according to customer buying habits and personalities.

Waitrose is a perfect example of bricks and mortar store using sophisticated technology to provide a pioneering, personalised multi-channel experience. Initiatives include the MyWaitrose loyalty scheme, with free hot drinks and newspapers, its Click-and-Collect service with temperature-controlled lockers and the Quick Check service allowing shoppers to scan goods as they shop using in-store tablets. All of these demonstrate a new level of personalisation enticing customers away from their screens and into the store.

But, no matter how enticing the service, if it is not performing correctly, loyalty can be shattered as quickly as it is built. Imagine shoppers speaking to a so-called ‘in-store voice recognition’ application with no response!

Retailers must ensure that they have full end-to-end visibility of the entire customer journey, no matter whether it crosses digital and physical channels, to understand any performance issues quickly and to ensure that the data collected is complete.

Today’s application and business-centric analytics solutions can play a crucial role here, allowing IT teams to monitor customer and app performance data in real-time and transform the trends and patterns into valuable insights. This way retailers can confidently optimise their software and ensure they continuously meet and exceed customer expectations with impressive levels of personalisation, performing consistently.

Those that scrutinise audience behaviours and adapt their services in-store and online accordingly will see transformative new retail experiences become a reality. However, success won’t be determined by grand, experiential, bells and whistles, innovation.

The retailers that can continuously adapt, improve and balance performance with pioneering methods will find themselves convincingly competing with the industry’s digital giants.

By striking the right balance between pioneering technology and faultless performance, physical stores can provide the personalised experiences customers are coming to expect.

Competing with incumbents doesn’t have to be an online-only battle. Digital disrupters may be having their moment in the spotlight, but bricks and mortar retailers shouldn’t leave the party early. They still have a lot to offer in the battle for customer loyalty and a significant role to play in the “experience economy”.

Author: John Rakowski, senior director of technology strategy at AppDynamics.

Image credit: Fotolia

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