Follow my leader: Retailers race to catch digital rivals

Viewpoint by Karmesh Vaswani

image captionShoppers are increasingly letting the barrier between digital and bricks and mortar blur when it comes to retailers

Walk down any High Street and you can see the biggest forces revolutionising shopping habits as the meteoric rise of Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook (or the Gang of Four as they are known) have fast become a normal part of our day-to-day lives.

We shop on phones, compare on Google and ask our Twitter friends what they think.

These and other innovative companies have changed our expectations about shopping and are forcing regular High Street retailers to up their game in response.

The future offers shoppers the best of both worlds, with smart retailers adopting the digital innovations from these companies to create an even more compelling experience for customers.

image captionInfosys's Karmesh Vaswani: "We're standing on the edge of a new digital era"

The buzz is all around, something the industry calls "multi-channel shopping", the channel referring to whatever the medium is that we shop through: online, mobile, kiosk, tills, etc.

What is becoming interesting is that in addition to making our shopping easier, digital technology is changing the whole experience, allowing the brands we buy from to interact with us in a way that actually adds value to our lives.

Take the example of someone who loves film.

Every time they buy a film during their weekly grocery shop, this information is logged on their customer loyalty card, giving that supermarket access to a treasure trove of information with which to improve this shopper's experience.

By analysing these purchase histories, the supermarket can tailor their sales and marketing techniques by texting them about any film offers in the same genre or starring the same actors.

Admittedly, this is a very basic example of how data analysis of customer information can help retailers understand them better, but it gives us a glimpse into the possibilities available to those willing to embrace digital retail.

This sort of analysis is due to get more accurate.

Through social media sites, brands can learn a lot about what we do and don't like, helping them to improve the services they offer us.

The analysis of social media, loyalty cards and other forms of data acts as a giant focus group on what we really want from the products retailers offer us, allowing them to populate their stores accordingly.

For example, a supermarket might see that we're due for a mini heat-wave and dust off their barbecue stock, putting it in prime position in the store.

But which products should they stock in the first place? An analysis of Facebook, Twitter and various reviews sites can provide them with the meta-data they need on which products are in demand, and which aren't.

This means they will have the right products on hand at the right time - a perfect result for the shop and for the barbeque-goers.

Online v High Street

For many, the advent of digital technology may seem like the final nail in the coffin for the traditional High Street retailer, but this is actually far from the case.

There will certainly be a period of adjustment, but those retailers that can effectively harness the power of digital will find that their High Street stores go from strength to strength.

In fact, physical stores are a real asset to retailers, as they allow consumers to have a hands-on experience of goods that is simply not possible in an online environment.

However, the real trick lies in combining these real and virtual experiences.

Retailers should be looking to complement the traditional retail experience in-store by adding digital technologies such as QR codes or barcodes.

This could potentially enable a shopper to access stock information or further details about a product if needed.

This will deliver a true multi-channel shopping experience and demonstrates how digital technology has the potential to transform shopping experiences.

We're standing on the edge of a new digital era.

Increasingly, shopping will evolve into a multi-channel experience where we will interact with brands over numerous platforms, online and off.

At the heart of all this will be vastly improved levels of customer service that will make us more informed and create a shopping environment that will be highly personalised and relevant to us.

Karmesh Vaswani leads the retail, CPG and logistics business unit for Infosys Europe

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