Be careful not to chase shiny objects

We all know the truth about shiny objects: they don’t always hold the most value

But in developing your overall strategy, it can be tough to reconcile business goals with the desire to roll out sparkling new technologies. The race to keep up with emerging trends looms large, as does the thought of becoming a first-mover by experimenting with tech that’s largely untested.

How can retailers prioritize and strategically choose which tech to put in their sights?

How should you focus your technology planning?

In the words of Andres Modak, Co-Founder of the e-tailer startup Snowe:

“Prioritize your learnings, what your focus is, and what your objectives are. This is what we want to learn, this what we want to get out of it. And if there’s a technology that makes it easy, that we can execute in our timeline, then we’ll give it a shot.”

Is in-store traffic and circulation your main priority? Is enabling better engagement and transacting between customers and associates a key objective?

The foundation of any effective technology plan is a solid cloud infrastructure, which rapidly improves the agility, security, and accessibility of your data. The cloud allows you to link all of your channels and legacy systems, more easily scaling your efforts. To do anything innovative with technology, this is the first step.

While tech investment on the back-end can appear to be the most cost-effective, retailers also need to meet customers on their level through digital engagement:

“Retailers, who have historically only invested in technology as a cost-saving opportunity for back-end operations must now invest in technology to be successful at anything – most especially including selling stuff.” — Forbes: Retail in 2018 Will Be About Technology for Technology’s Sake

There are very real questions to ask, of course, before committing to front-end tactics. You can’t dive into the Internet of Things, for example, before understanding what your objectives really are. Are you using IoT to merely target customers with offers in-store, or can you also use it to help them navigate the store more effectively?

In a recent Euromonitor survey of retail professionals, 76% of respondents said improving the customer journey will be the top concern over the coming year. At the core of any strategy should be an understanding of how customers are using and reacting to technology in their everyday lives.

Is your tech putting the customer at the center?

Technology isn’t inhuman. In fact, it can offer customers a deeper, more lasting connection with brands, both in-store and online. The key is to speak to their comfort areas.

Currently, a number of retailers are frustrated with the results: 25% of retailers have not seen a positive ROI from their tech initiatives and feel that technology makes it harder to reach consumers face-to-face.

But technology can actually enhance the one-on-one interaction in-store, giving store associates an appealing credibility. Equip associates with a mobile device, and consumers are that much more likely to engage with them. City Furniture’s 1,300 plus sales associates have helped increase average order volume by 13 percent using sales apps on tablets. And the soft ROI here is added customer value, which may be perceived as short term but can translate to more engagement in the long run.

Obviously, it’s crucial that retailers put technology in the hands of people who can wield it successfully, and that can require some training and culture shift. But these things are just as valid an expense as the technology itself.

Why is agility important to your tech initiatives?

A large issue for legacy retailers is the struggle to implement technology that can be tested and adjusted on an agile basis. Michelle Bacharach, Co-Founder of FINDMINE, understands this problem intimately:

“I think there’s a lot of fear about innovation. And there’s a lot of throwing the baby out with the bathwater: ‘We tried this chatbot and it didn’t work, so chatbots aren’t for us.’ Maybe the one you picked was wrong. Maybe the use case was wrong. Learning how to test and learn rather than test and throw away is essential.”

If retailers can carve out resources that allow them to experiment, innovation is that much easier. And in order to innovate, you need effective ways to make use of the data at your disposal.

What are some important areas where retailers can innovate and test in the name of better customer engagement?

How can you measure technology ROI?

Especially when it comes to tech, the ROI that retailers aim for can’t just be a hard number. There should be room for both long and short term goals as well as a more indirect ROI: better customer experience and stronger customer service by store associates.

What retailers are increasingly learning is that implementing tech doesn’t always have near-horizon goals. Investing in tech innovation now might contribute to cost-savings five years down the line. The customer data gathered has a powerful ROI in itself, leading to insights that can shape later strategies.

With all of this in mind, it’s easier to justify the cost of new technology initiatives and the human training/capital that goes with them.

The path to your goals isn’t straight and narrow

Sometimes the “best laid plans” are in fact just that: strategies that widen the margin for error and leave room for creativity and agility. If you can design reasonable benchmarks while leaving room to adapt, technology can aim for more manageable summits in your overall strategy.

A key element of success is ensuring people at all levels of your organization can keep learning and asking the right questions. For example:

  • Can you identify user-centric outcomes based on their needs and desires?
  • Is there plenty of opportunity for feedback from team members?
  • Are you listening to your customers at all times?

Great tech strategy is backed up by tech-forward culture. Click the button below to learn how to follow through at all levels.

Updated Jan 10, 2019 | Originally published September 2018