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The way we shop now – and how retailers can adapt

The way we shop now – and how retailers can adapt
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

As the pandemic hit and online retail became the new normal, brick-and-mortar retailers had no choice but to switch to e-commerce channels. This dramatic refocus, borne out of sheer necessity, meant digital transformation became one of the industry’s biggest priorities, and the need for substantial investment in e-commerce grew astronomically. Thousands of storefronts closed their doors last year, and even more are expected to do so in 2021. If retail businesses are to survive, now is the time to rethink their strategy and offer to adapt to a now largely online customer base.

About the author

Harish Dwarkanhalli is President of Wipro’s Applications & Data business.

As digital transformation accelerates and evolves, new technologies present alternative avenues to ensure exceptional customer experience, and even greater opportunities for market capture and profit creation. It is clear the future of retail is digital and online retail will continue to be the norm post pandemic. This doesn’t mean the end of brick-and-mortar stores, but it does mean the retail sector needs to consider how the two can work together, complementing one another. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be prepared for the unexpected.

Pillars of the digital journey

The digital transformation journey is a complex one, but some basic pillars are:

  • To stay ahead, modern consumer-driven businesses must deliver new services faster than their competitors. One way to achieve this is by going cloud native. The cloud offers speed, agility and flexibility and enables enterprises to stay ahead of the curve with continuous automatic updates on the latest features. This in turn allows them to meet consumer demands quicker
  • To recognize that, today’s customer is an omni channel customer, using all avenues, mobile devices, laptops and physical stores, before finally making a purchase online. Therefore, it is essential that businesses ensure all digital and offline channels are aligned to allow for a standardized, user-friendly experience.

Digital transformation in ecommerce opens up a plethora of opportunities to harness major growth potential. One fundamental requirement is the adoption of latest technologies across business processes to deliver upticks in the value provided to customers. From creating an improved checkout experience, to designing a website with the desired consumer experience in mind, digital transformation ticks all of these boxes. That considered, there are 3 key questions to ask: How do you transform the end customer experience and therefore match their process? How do you change the backbone of a business, including its systems and processes? And what technology do you use to implement these changes?

What tech is needed?

For retailers, the easiest way to unlock the value of digital transformation and improve end-customer experience is with data. The more customer information you can tap into, the more insights you gain and consequently, the better you can tailor the retail experience. This means tapping into the existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to track a customer’s activity across all channels.

As online retail increases, retailers need to reimagine their sales strategy, embracing the ecommerce tools available. An example of this was a recent tech partnership with a well-known electronics retailer to assess and deliver a transformed roadmap for its commerce platform. This complete transformation encompassed open-source engineering, automation, CI/CD processes (Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery), cloud enablement, agile development and talent transformation. Ultimately, this major transformational shift enabled the retailer to recapture share and deliver products at the same speed and personalization as its competitors. Moving forward, this platform will provide the scalability and agility required to accommodate future growth.

As expectations of retailers increase, automation systems will play an ever more central role. When an American corporation with worldwide retail locations had to deal with a sudden increase in demand, they deployed a touchless order management system that enabled the retailer to manage order logistics and returns seamlessly. Additionally, their entire workflow automation was executed on the cloud platform, easing the retailer’s experience and ensuring long term scalability.

Information on market trends and customer preferences can also be collected from internal and external sources. Here, strategically implemented advanced technology can create a detailed portrait of a customer’s wants, likes, shopping habits and more. When combined with market trend data, the retailer can then predict which items the customer is likely to find most interesting and target them with special offers, specific to those products. These deals can be shared via loyalty schemes, social media, email, in turn increasing the customer’s interaction with the retailer and hopefully, also increasing sales. Enhancing and personalizing the customer experience simultaneously encourages brand loyalty and through increased sales, translates into greater profitability.

Alongside the correct in-store technology, a retailer can identify individual customers as they walk into the store and guide their purchasing activity. Purchase data can then be used to target the customer with bespoke offers, available that day only, whilst they are still in the store shopping. By targeting the customer with products they want, on platforms they use, retailers can offer a highly personalized, seamless shopping experience simply via a customer’s mobile phone. Also evolving are the methods businesses use to interact with their customers. Deploying good platform-agnostic Help Desk software is a great way to integrate multiple support channels under one roof and is key to reaching more customers, as fast as possible. It is also advisable to develop a comprehensive, yet easy to read, FAQ section, so customers have the choice of a self-serve option.

Enriching customer experience

This new and developing landscape presents huge opportunities, but also raises the challenge of maintaining a consistent customer experience and the unified vision of the customer becomes more important than ever. Having all data together is simply not enough anymore. Companies must analyze data, uncover insights and trigger actions as a key part of the equation. If the customer data platform leverages the power of cloud to achieve this, it will enable the company to build a deeper understanding of customers. They will be able to use the consolidation of data from multiple sources in a unified profile, with the ability to measure, analyze, enrich and export data to provide a better customer experience.

Not only can digital transformation provide an exceptional customer experience, it can also recalibrate the way business is conducted. Advanced technologies can take over the mundane everyday tasks, freeing up teams to focus on growth objectives in more efficient and productive ways. Simply put, digital tech solutions enable real-time collaboration, both internally and with clients, afford more transparency and allow for remote working, a key priority for many businesses, both now and moving forwards.

So, with all this change, what is set to be the next big thing? Many have predicted that we can expect to see a rise in Voice Commerce, where voice assistants are used to buy products. So far, there are only a few shoppers using this method, but the potential for voice shopping is huge. This could lead to an overhaul of current systems and processes and in turn, bring forth a new era of retail.

Digital Transformation in the ecommerce industry has never been more important than it is today. The pandemic has accelerated the rise of the digital economy and substantially increased online retail traffic. That said, keeping up with this change in demand can be difficult and businesses that do not keep in step with changing consumer habits and new marketplace demands may not survive. Digitalization has huge growth potential and embracing these technological changes will be critical to success in our new normal!

Harish Dwarkanhalli

Harish Dwarkanhalli is President of Wipro’s Applications & Data business.