How smart retailers deploy technology [National, The (United Arab Emirates)]
(National, The (United Arab Emirates) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) We believe there are five key aspects to technological innovation in which retailers and consumer goods companies must invest in order to regain competitiveness over the medium term: relevance, efficiency, collaboration, credibility and analytics.
Customers are increasing on the move, well informed and well connected and with little time to deal with their own day-to-day needs; therefore, the ability to manage multiple, well-orchestrated physical and digital channels is essential, as is the ability to provide products that are specifically designed to meet a need that arises "right then" and "right there". Take, for example, American Apparel, a well-known "fast fashion" brand, which has extended its points of contact with the consumer by establishing an e-commerce platform within Amazon. With clearly delineated customer segments and known bargains, the brand is taking advantage of an established digital platform to offer a product assortment that has been specifically designed for online shopping.
Creating a flexible, streamlined model of operations is perhaps the top priority facing chief executives and chief operating officers today. A great many companies are constantly on the lookout for solutions that will enable them to reduce overhead and make their businesses faster and more efficient. Outsourcing non-core activities or creating centralised units that aggregate typical back-office functions into a single unit are just a few of the possible ways that operating efficiency can be increased. Philips, Edcon and Kimberly Clark, for example, have begun establishing centralised service units in countries where labour costs are lower to handle repetitive tasks such as administration, finance and logistics.
Working together with the consumer and creating mutual value can be a great way to increase customer loyalty and strengthen customer relations. To this end, the increasing use of smartphones and social networks has sped up the engagement process with powerful digital channels that can coax consumers to shop and make them an integral part of establishing and managing the offering. For example, Topshop uses digital kiosks and augmented reality so that customers can try on clothes virtually, share photos with their peers, and express preferences on their social networks. These new technologies make it possible to enhance the perceived quality of the service and to facilitate cross-selling and upselling, and to analyse consumer traits and preferences.
Quality, trust and sincerity matter to today's consumer. The great many channels of communication now available to businesses are a means of consolidating position and transmitting the key values of the brand to the customer. Among the companies that have figured out how to use this model competitively, Domino's Pizza is the precursor to a new form of transparency: the company now published the feedback (both positive and negative) it receives from its customers onto huge digital signboards in Times Square. This exposes the restaurant chain to high levels of reputation risk, but it is investing a great deal in transparency. Along the same lines, Best Buy and Timberland have given themselves goals of environmental sustainability and are informing the market of their actions. The consumer electronics giant is undertaking a massive recycling campaign with the goal of recycling 453,000 tons of product by 2014. Timberland's website, in turn, provides information about the energy resources the company uses in manufacturing its clothing.
Technology makes it possible to gather and track vast amounts of data regarding the many opportunities for customer contact, including in-store visits and use of the company's website. The value of this information lies in its ability to guide business development strategies, point to potential areas for intervention, reduce complexity and facilitate investment decisions. Analytics can now be used as a sort of magnifying glass pointed at consumers, and many organisations are ready to look even more closely at their own ecosystems. Sony, for example, has developed a marketing analytics tool that helps to better understand and select the main digital channels to be used when creating the organisation's marketing campaigns.
Alessandro Zanotti and Raffaella Campagnoli are consultants with Accenture
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