Connected Retail for Real

Here is a supermarket with no queues at the checkout; no need to line up your items at the till. So you just go into the store, stick whatever you want into a shopping bag and go? With Amazon Go at the end of last year, Amazon transformed what stressed-out shoppers the world over dream of into a reality… Shopping just as it should be – simple and painless.

With this option, Amazon has in fact managed to overcome a major weakness in fixed retail shops. If the concept proves reliable, Amazon will have thus created a promising scenario for truly optimising the payment process in fixed retail trade. At present, however, there are still many questions about the practical implementation of Amazon Go. For example, there is no information to date on how reliable item-recognition is for articles selected from the display, or how well the technology performs in randomly setting aside products at points in the store. Furthermore, current reports make it clear that the tracking technology is still facing problems in its practical application, which postpones the start-up of further stores until further notice.

The above example therefore clearly shows that integrated solutions for fixed shop retail are only possible via complex systems, which must be personalised, smart and target-oriented, but also planned for the real world. Even for an industry giant like Amazon, this is not child’s play.

Complexity equals difficulty?

Customer centricity therefore plays a decisive role, because it is only if we fully understand customer requirements and behaviour patterns, placing them at the centre of our strategic efforts, that points of contact can be built with them. Offering them the urgently required added value to help them with their purchasing decisions and to enable distributors to generate revenue. This surely means that suppliers need to be aware of their opportunities for connecting with customers and more especially, how to steer them.

Various points of contact, such as fixed retail outlets, online shops and apps, amongst others, therefore require different approaches and technical concepts, in order to be able to provide, gather and meaningfully consolidate information. Moreover, in order for this to be effective, sophisticated interfaces must also be provided to bring these together.

Over recent years, various distributors have already built systems that provide their online shops, apps and fixed retail outlets with price, customer and product data. Although these systems all fulfil their respective purpose to an excellent degree and are constantly expanding in terms of their functionality and data volume, they frequently fail to offer any straightforward smart options for meaningful information exchange. However, it really does depend.

In order to take the first steps towards complex scenarios of this kind, with relatively low infrastructural investment, so-called Middleware solutions are appropriate. Their implementation ensures the existence and successive renewal of old systems, without affecting ongoing business processes. Furthermore, they permit flexibility in existing systems, so that they can expand and bring together further points of contact. However, without a comprehensive strategy for off-setting offers and content against each other through different points of contact, such solutions achieve relatively little.

How will we get it, unless we steal it?

In fact, there are already approaches to such comprehensive strategies, although there is absolutely no point whatsoever in simply seizing hold of them and imitating them. A strategy which is not individually tailored to the company or to customer expectations will not work. For this reason, it is essential to develop a vision to clarify what should actually be created. In addition, it must be defined what is technically feasible, what is not (yet) possible, and how existing versions can be deployed in an appropriate form for one’s own company.

Nevertheless, without drawing upon real practical experience, such conclusions are not possible. It rather requires an experimental approach, using prototypes or MVP tests amongst customers. How do augmented reality, location-based service approaches and voice activation work? How can these be used in one’s own retail outlet? Moreover, do they provide any added value for customers? Questions like this would thus be explored in such practical tests. Small workshops to test and understand the most diverse technical systems and applications, as well as any ideas for scenarios that may be deduced from these, form the basis of the strategic process, whereby one’s own connected retail concept is the aim.

The time is now

Technical development has already reached a point where meaningful retail scenarios can be created, which no longer differentiate between retail trade and online activities. Ultimately, Amazon Go does not represent an example of this. What are still lacking are clearly defined concepts, such as how to combine this technology with various information about products and customer preferences accumulated over time and at various touchpoints, and how to use an integrated strategy. It is also high time that physical contact points with customers were re-evaluated and a particular experience created. Therefore, anyone who has not given much thought to this had better start doing so as soon as possible.

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