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GUEST COMMENT The digital foundations for the future of retail

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Whilst digital transformation has been on the retail agenda for some time, the pandemic forced it to the very top. Covid-19 altered the landscape virtually overnight, compelling retailers to embrace digital technologies and rapidly reassess their operations.

Now, two years on, there’s no question that post-pandemic recovery will be a slow process. In fact, a survey by Forrester predicted that it would take four years for retail sales figures to overtake pre-pandemic levels. With further potential impacts of economic uncertainty and geopolitical unrest, it could take even longer.

Retailers understandably have a number of key concerns right now. Firstly, the economy is uncertain and they face financial headwinds such as continuing inflation and interest rates volatility. Labour shortages are also a factor, and retailers will try to address this with a mixture of technology, increased wages and perks, and selling corporate purpose.

As the pandemic evolves, retailers are also trying to navigate this new environment and understand how it will impact their bottom line. Last but not least, retailers around the world faced supply chain disruptions last year, and they must prepare in case this continues.

Nonetheless, there’s an opportunity which – if embraced by retail leaders – could see them emerge from the other side free from legacy systems, practices and mindsets. There are great benefits possible if we take this opportunity to rebuild retail on a digital foundation.

1)Getting the foundations right to invest in future technologies

As retailers look to invest in advanced technologies and innovations – including AI, virtualisation, automation, and data applications – having the right digital infrastructure in place is becoming increasingly critical. Whether it’s automation in store for check out areas, or using AI to speed up interaction with consumers online, all of these technologies need to be underpinned by the right foundations. The ability to ensure always-on connectivity, to turn services on and off with ease, to facilitate collaborative business models and joint ventures – and to do it all with guaranteed security – is now front of mind. In fact, nearly 50% of retail brands say unifying online and in-store operations and data will be their biggest challenge over the next year.

2)Improving both the employee and customer experience

Digital transformation brings with it far more than just technological change. It can enable changes to processes and cultures, which can have a positive impact on efficiency, productivity, engagement and wellness. The best digital solutions will allow organisations to work smarter, ensuring employees have everything they need to do their best work regardless of location, device or network, in order to deliver a better customer experience. This is also crucial for retaining talent, which is an issue for many industries including retail. Our recent research found that 31% of workers left jobs because they were frustrated by overly complicated technology and processes.

3)Building consumer trust by empowering work from anywhere

Building consumer trust starts with the employee experience. It’s important because 60% of people do not believe there is a ‘customer for life’ anymore – retailers have to repeatedly earn their trust. A hybrid working environment is the future of employee experience, but how to secure it is the number one question. The best way to deliver this is through Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) powered hybrid work, ensuring security is in place as well as a speedy employee experience, all to help consumers faster and more effectively.

4)Enabling the phygital experience to attract consumers

As well as being flexible for employees, retailers can use technology to meet the customer where it’s most convenient from them. You may have heard the term ‘phygital’ retail – referring to the trend of experiential retailing and providing a more integrated shopping experience. A great customer experience is a differentiator and key for customer retention. Like omnichannel retail, phygital retail gives consumers the choice to discover and buy products through their preferred shopping channel. Whether it’s online, in-store or via social media, streamlining all these approaches is part of creating a phygital retail strategy. Retailers are trying to deliver the right mix between the digital convenience and the physical experiences of the store. By embracing the right digital technology, they can make this experience more seamless and integrated. Given this demand from consumers, having the right technology to deliver it will be important to keep consumers and drive future sales.

5)A catalyst for growth

While many of the digital solutions may have been created as temporary measures back in 2020, now is the time for retailers to see this as a catalyst for future growth. The opportunity is here to overcome some of the long term issues that have been weighing on the minds of retail executives for some time: the rise of ecommerce and the role of the physical store, data security, supply chain efficiency, sustainability and, of course, customer and employee experience in light of ever-changing expectations.

After the hardship of the last two years, we are now at a point where retailers are beginning to envisage a new era for their industry, with digital at its heart. Investing in a secure digital environment to underpin and unify all aspects of commerce will be the key to industry resilience, agility, security and growth.


Gerard Lavin, Field chief technology officer, EMEA, at Citrix

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