Retailers’ Secret Weapon Lies In Their IT Department
In today’s world, customers are looking for an experience that streamlines the shopping process and caters to their needs. In fact, the quality of their shopping experience is playing a larger role than ever when it comes to making purchasing decisions.
A 2014 study by TimeTrade, for instance, indicated that 90 percent of shoppers leave a store empty-handed if they don’t get the help they need – while 86 percent of those very same shoppers would buy more than planned if they got that help, and 90 percent would be more likely to return to the same store again. In other words, retailers who effectively and efficiently guide customers through the buying process will win sales and customer loyalty.
Today’s technology increasingly plays a role in customer satisfaction. It streamlines the process and makes new forms of customer interaction possible. In fact, as technology begins dominating the landscape, retailers who fail to embrace it will find it hard to compete. And it has positioned IT managers and specialists as vital players in retail strategies.
IT managers must find and coordinate teams of people with different specialties to ensure tech operations run smoothly in the store. Tech systems are growing increasingly complex, often requiring people with different skills and backgrounds, changing the hiring needs of most retailers.
“[IT specialists] have always been important, but with the evolution of technology, just from a home use to a people perspective, companies are looking more and more toward IT to gain a competitive edge,” says Ed Smith, an IT specialist and VP and CEO of Abt Electronics, a Chicago-area electronics superstore which is known for its cutting edge use of IT in a retail environment.
“[Retail IT] is our DNA” he says.
The IT factor
A single store might need someone who specializes in mobile development, another who specializes in supply chain implementation, and another who focuses on analytics or on a real-time data and memory platform. A manager coordinates these efforts so they can actually produce useful results and coordinate actual programs and strategies with a high ROI.
Selling products online and making them available in-store for pickup has made the buying process easier for customers – and it also can save valuable space and resources for the retailer. And the use of beacon technology, such as Samsung’s newly introduced Proximity, enables retailers to reach customers like never before. Beacon technology is a location-based service that allows retailers to provide in-store offers to consumers and can even provide customers with floor plans of a mall. For customers, it’s convenient and appealing, and for retailers it provides a streamlined way to create and manage marketing campaigns.
Another key use of technology that every retailer should consider is making product information and branding available in-store. This may mean using video screens to display product detail, but there are other options. Providing free Wi-Fi is a simple, affordable and extremely powerful one. Shoppers with smart phones and tablets can simply connect to Wi-Fi and research products, or even find sales tailored to their personal interests and purchase history.
Some stores – like Smith’s Abt – equip their staff with tablets or smartphones so that they’re ready to answer any customer question with the click of a button.
Ben Davis is an IT consultant with the British firm Econsultancy, which specializes in using technology to bring together online and offline retail strategies. He notes that while many retailers overemphasize integrating social media into the store environment, mobile technology can be extremely powerful. Giving price comparisons, sales alerts and product information can guide customers through the purchase process. It can also help develop strong customer-retailer relationships while providing retailers with valuable data and analytics.
All of these projects require teams of people with different specialties – mobile technology, programming, analytics – to succeed. Retail managers’ coordination efforts make this possible. These can facilitate every step of the selling process – from stocking stores to attracting customers and driving sales.
“Multichannel customers are worth more than offline- or online-only ones,” says Davis. “It pays to implement tech that allows operational improvement – not just a flashy experience for the customer.”