The Australian consumer’s seemingly insatiable appetite to buy and buy now shows no signs of abating any time soon.
Indeed, retail trade figures recently released by the ABS show the customers’ need to spend, spend, spend isn’t slowing down, citing an increase of 3.7 per cent in just one 12 month period. But as consumer demand grows ever more voracious, it’s also evolving into a different sales landscape and Australian retailers – and the technology companies who support them – need to look sharp if they’re going to be able to adapt in time.
So, what are some of the changes we can expect to see from a retail viewpoint? It’s no surprise to learn that increased digitisation will continue to be central to the sales evolution; retailers would be hard pressed to come up with a convincing argument that says otherwise. How we view what we used to call a ‘store’ has already changed dramatically. Consumers continually expect better access and service from a brand, even as a store’s actual footprint becomes less. As more goods can be accessed online, virtually every object can itself begin a sales conversation or connection with the consumer; each item becoming a ‘store’ in itself.
After some initial grumblings about privacy, most customers now fully expect, and are relaxed about, the use of their social data to create a better buying experience. They’re equally comfortable that their personal buying information is increasingly being used to drive an omnichannel approach, giving them a seamless retail experience no matter how they’re shopping – online via a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in person. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest customers tend to move away from sellers who don’t utilize their information in this way. And whilst we’re on the subject of data, forward thinking retailers will be investing in new forms of cloud and analytics to allow a clearer, more accurate assessment of their own operations and a stronger understanding of customer behaviour.
The strategic outsourcing of business operations will also undoubtedly continue. Procurement, IT, record management, supply chain – all these functions and more are no longer required to be in-house so will be sourced and bought as needed and in a way that’s most cost effective for the retailer. Not only does this make economic sense, it gives the retailer the flexibility to pack up or set up operations quickly.
One of the most interesting aspects of the increasingly crowded retail space is that technology has allowed the playing field to become much more level, despite the disparity in retailer size. Small, indie-style operators can give larger, traditional traders a real run for their money simply by utilising technology to their advantage. Greatly reduced operating costs and access to exceptional technological capabilities puts them right at the forefront, forcing retailers to also seek out more advanced technology. And this in turn means they’ll be looking to source a service that’s faster, better, more cost effective than ever before.
And therein lies the problem for many technology providers. How can they become more agile and responsive to a retailer’s needs and at a better price? The sensible answer is to outsource the servicing component of their offering to white label partners.
Just as retailers have realised the benefits of outsourcing technology so their own people can get on with what they’re good at, technology companies need to see the benefits of doing the same for the servicing side of their operations. Doing so will allow their own high-tech resources to be focused on what they’re good at and what they’re being paid for: high-tech work.
It makes a lot of sense. For example, walk through any mall or shopping precinct and evidence of advanced technology is abundant. An ever expanding utilisation of media panels to catch our attention, wi-fi available virtually wherever we are, an increasing number of self-service checkouts, upgraded banking facilities – it’s endless. Hi-tech it may be, but the installation and continuing maintenance of this infrastructure is very much low technology.
The physical deployment of technologies by tech companies can be quite challenging as the skill set required is not one traditionally found in such an entity. Consider for a moment the wi-fi scenario. Installation requires a tradesperson with a ticket to operate a scissor lift, or perhaps an individual trained in working at height. Add to that a need for carpenters, cablers, electricians and so on and the project is suddenly a lot more involved. To add another layer of complexity, most of the installation deployment must be done out of hours, with completion due before the start of the normal business day. And all this for just one job, for just one client.
None of these skills represent core competency within a technology company, but they are nevertheless very much key to a successful deployment of the chosen service installation. Many technology providers will no doubt be asking themselves: Can our people do this? A more pertinent question would be: Do we want our people to do this?
By choosing to seek out a servicing provider to partner with, high technology vendors, systems integrators and resellers can offer retailers improved field processes and supply chain efficiencies whilst at the same time increasing their own agility, reach and technology capabilities.
Perhaps most important of all, by keeping their high-tech resources engaged on high-tech projects, employee motivation and job satisfaction levels remain buoyant. And staff that are happy are staff that stay.
The changes happening in the retail sector offer tremendous opportunity for the IT industry to change too, offering technology providers a chance to deploy a new, more efficient workforce solution to their customers. What’s your business doing about it?