It’s an understatement to say that retail has been through a lot of change in the last few months. Retailers have had to adapt to this change, adopting and upskilling their workforce on new technologies quickly to succeed in the new world of work. As we emerge into a delicate economy and look to the future of retail, these new ways of working will help us drive competitiveness, productivity and innovation. In fact, we’ll see a £48.2 billion cumulative boost to the UK economy if all UK organisations achieve a minimal increase in their competitiveness.
Early on, I heard someone say: “Change shopping or customer service for six weeks, and it’s changed for life.” This has never been more true and has been accelerated through COVID-19.
Let’s not forget these changes have been coming down the line for a while. It’s just their adoption has been sped up. For customers, it’s the move into more digital channels or the demand for omni-channel experiences. For retailers, it’s the need to leverage technology to provide better support for customers and employees alike.
So how do we ensure the future of retail and the success in the new world of work? By being smarter, more resilient, and even more customer-focussed than ever before.
1. Implement the right infrastructure and processes
When you get down to it, commerce is based on conversations between employees or from employee to customer. People are the heart of business. That’s why it’s so important to have the tools that facilitate effective communication and collaboration.
During the first half of 2020, we saw a rise in digital communication platforms like Teams. This allows for everyone – frontline staff, warehouse staff, head office staff, to access a single source of information at the same time and work together seamlessly and securely from anywhere.
As we look to the future of retail, see where you can remove other silos in your organisation – such as integrating your data and analytics. By bringing together communications, commerce, and customer profiles, you can give employees the ability to access real-time insights that can help them deliver better customer experiences in-store and online.
We’ve had a partnership with Marks and Spencer for a while, helping them integrate data and analytics across every endpoint to drive better customer experiences and build resilience. So, when they moved to more remote ways of working, they were able to leverage the tools they already have.
“Colleagues have enjoyed being much more multitasked and multiskilled and enabling lots of digital technologies to really support them and deliver optimised customer experiences,” says Helen Milford, Stores Director at Marks and Spencer.
2. Harness the power of productivity tools in the new world of work
When you break down organisational siloes and create a 360-degree holistic view of the organisation, it becomes much easier to make data-driven decisions that drive sustainable growth. It’s also easier to use AI and machine learning to optimise customer data, so your employees can focus on delivering personalised experiences.
Think about using tools and devices that empower your employees to work in their best way, securely, from anywhere. Tools such as Microsoft Teams, Dynamics 365, and Power BI, help you connect all your data together, so your employees have it when they need it. And because they work across a range of devices, your employees can securely access information wherever they are.
By bringing all your data together, you can drive real insights and make real-time and predictive decisions, making you more resilient and agile. Using IoT in stores and warehouses, for example, can not only create safer spaces with traffic and stock management, but employees are empowered to tailor each store to their direct customers, using real-time insights to optimise stores, predictively order stock, and deliver personalised customer experiences.
3. Drive innovation and new customer experiences with apps
The retailers that are successfully using technology to be more productive are also driving innovation with new applications to aid business. This also involves taking advantage of your employee’s ideas to drive better customer experiences.
How can a retailer do this productively? With no/low-code platforms such as Power Apps and Power Platforms. These help you quickly scale out new apps securely to your employees, or even out to your customers. Marks and Spencer are well-known for their popular bra fitting and child shoe sizing services. However, currently social distancing means these services are hard to offer. By quickly creating apps that offer this, they can still provide their customers with the services they know to expect, while gathering data on products and customer behaviour to drive better experiences in the future.
How to succeed in the future of retail
The retailers that will be successful now and in the future are the ones who have leveraged this opportunity. They use data and analytics to free up employee’s time. They can then focus on driving better customer experiences and increased value for the business.
“People are at the start of a digital journey, and they need to constantly review and reflect on what they’re doing,” says Simon Bennett, CTO EMEA, Rackspace Technology. “I think there’s a constant innovation that will happen and we’re at the start of an interesting journey.”
It’s not just about merchandise, marketing, or technology. It’s about retailers coming together in the service of their employees and their customers.
By breaking down those organisational siloes, you can bring your people together. This will help create a culture that focusses on innovation and inclusiveness to build sustainable growth.
As a result, retailers can build better businesses that make faster decisions. Ultimately, that will help them become more resilient and innovative in the new world of work.
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About the author
Ali is a highly successful award-winning industry-business leader, with a successful career spanning 22 years working in the retail and technology sectors including Executive Director of Retail at Verizon. He works as the Microsoft UK Retail Industry Executive creating visionary, business, and technology outcomes for customers and partners in this area.
Outside of Microsoft Ali, hosts and runs The Retail Podcast. He is also an advocate for (CALM) a leading movement against suicide. Every week 125 people in the UK take their own lives. And 75 percent of all UK suicides are male.