Four principles for building an effective retail technology platform

Four principles for building an effective retail technology platform
Vidya Laxman
24 Jan, 2020

Today, all technologies that can be used for retail -- from AI, robots and co-bots, to data analytics, location-based services and biometrics -- have advantages and also come with intrinsic challenges. 

The modern retail experience demands seamless movement between physical and digital retail, and technologies that create that bridge are the most preferred ones. These provide a lot of value but only if they improve the fundamentals of the business, and enable an open platform that can be innovated upon.

From the business point of view, every global and local brand is aspiring to provide the omnichannel experience. Customers are looking at a seamless interaction with the brand -- physical and digital need to be a single process experience. The only way to retain their interest in your brand is to offer a differentiated phygital experience, beating the competition by innovation!

So, what’s the best way to create a successful technology platform for retail business?

Here are some quick pointers:

Customer First strategy

In order to provide the omnichannel experience, the seamless integration between mobile, online and offline will need the support of bots, AI (artificial intelligence), IoT (internet of things) and cloud. For the in-store hyper-personalized experience, analytics would be a good option. Choosing the latest technologies like VR/AR (virtual reality/ augmented reality) can provide great in-store experiences with a cost cut on inventory or even sales resources in stores.

The technology platform being leveraged needs to have the ability to keep consumers and partners alike captive to the business goal. 

This strategy may not always be an external force. Increasingly, companies are focusing more on data-driven insights and less on the traditional HiPPO (highest paid person's opinion, the highest paid person in the office) syndrome. Adequate data insights can help create the first strategy in-house, studying the target group, ascertaining its focus and needs in terms of product as well as the shopping experience. Working on every strategy, with a focus on providing the best customer experience, is a sure shot in the right direction. So analytics is the best friend of the strategist and hence the bottomlines.

Moving on all fronts with a customer first strategy takes care of all other systems -- technology is an enabler in business and needs to be leveraged for the focus of the business- the customer.

Choice of technology

The choice of technology needs to be in not following the herd, or being arbitrary or most trendy. Technology that meets the specifics needs of the customer, offers the best visibility and interactivity for your brand is the best fit. A perfect strategy would be a UX driven product approach. 

It is important to follow technology trends but it is even more important that those trends match with the business objective. Technology that isn’t in sync with your market focus, which isn’t doable from the point of view of teams internally, and is ambiguous about results from the customer side, is not really a good idea. Even if it is the top trending technology today!

The implementation and rollout also need to be efficient but not complicated. While it is absolutely imperative to study, experiment and then go ahead with the rollout, it is equally important that this process does not take an inordinate amount of time or money. An agile approach to development and deployment will save costs at all levels while encouraging faster deployment -- to catch the earliest business cycles. 

Innovative outlook

A decentralized approach to innovation -- many brains better than one, is the biggest strength for any new technology platform. Not only does it get in opinions, more thought to the activity and also new ideas for innovations led change, but also ensures buy-in for operating teams and stakeholders. 

This process also encourages new ideas and startup initiatives to be able to grow to a full-blown enterprise. It is a well-known fact that fresh thinking, new ideas and the ability to take risk comes from newer blood. Old behemoths set in their ways of systems and processes seldom move in an agile manner. And this lack of agility is their biggest weakness.

This speed and agility with ideas, implementations, and delivery is the strength of younger companies -- startups and incubated firms. So to have an effective technology platform in the retail space, it is smart to take the support of innovative, agile and forward-thinking teams. 

Beating the competition at the game

The reader will notice that beating competition is the last point in the list. This is not because that is not an important activity. Most businesses are focused on beating the competitor and eliminating the competition. The business of retail, however, is more about customers than the competition. Providing the best possible experience for the customer will take care of competition as well. 

Innovations in customer-focused strategies, technologies that will get you there are all that is needed to beat the competition. The sector is a great place to establish brand loyalties -- provide a priceless in-store or online experience, good service model and great customer connect -- and the customer will not look anywhere else. Technology adopted for creating platforms has to be focused on that.

So, beating the competition at the game will be all about adopting smart, agile technologies to create a platform that delivers the best customer experience.

Creating an effective retail technology platform is an exercise that is driven by strategy and delivered by technology. Analytics and smart insights should be the base for all decisions since it's about data-driven information personalization and hyper-customization for customers. That is the soul of all technology implementations -- the customer and their satisfaction.

Vidya Laxman

Vidya Laxman

Vidya Laxman is technology director at Tesco Bengaluru. The views in this article are her own.