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Paul Higley

Paul Higley

The future of retail has long been heralded as digital. And, of course, some of the online shopping giants are testament to the vast appeal of a digital shopping experience. But the overwhelming popularity of online retail does not necessarily herald the end of brick-and-mortar stores.

Online stores can offer a more convenient experience for customers under certain circumstances – but not in every case. For instance, the customer who is looking for advice, wants to test a particular product firsthand or likes the face-to-face interaction of talking to a sales rep will always have use for a physical store. But for shops to continue to thrive, they must offer an ‘in real life’ digital experience that is at least on a par with online.

The Riverbed Retail Digital Transformation Survey 2018 shows that cloud-based technology will be essential for retailers looking to deliver a superior customer experience and to stay successful. Of the 300 IT decision makers, at retail companies with $500 million or more in revenue who were surveyed, nearly half said their company will need to adopt new technology in the next three years to evolve and stay competitive.

Retailers are experiencing an apps-gap

Riverbed’s survey findings highlighted a gap between where retailers want to be and where they currently are. Even though there is recognition that retail applications supporting in-store staff are of utmost importance, nearly half (46%) claim their companies do not currently have applications in place. In addition, 58% of retailer decision-makers do not have mobile point of sale (POS) technology in place for staff to facilitate customer transactions, making the purchase process a severe pain point.

For customer-facing technologies, this gap is even more pronounced. Virtual assistants are lacking in the majority of retailers (74%), and just more than two thirds (67%) don’t offer push notifications to inform customers of recommendations or sales while they’re in the store. This leaves retailers with an incredible amount of ground to make up in a very short time, in order to keep pace with rapidly shifting customer demands.

Cloud is crucial

The cloud is a fundamental requirement for retailers that want to achieve digital transformation. Almost all of global IT decision makers (98%) view cloud-based solutions that improve the customer experience as critical to enhancing the digital retail experience. And, placing next-generation networking technology at the heart of a cloud strategy ensures a more agile, resilient and efficient network that will be able to deliver the experience users expect, whilst providing greater control, security and manageability.

In terms of specific use cases, applications that track inventory top the list as the most important technology to keep up with customer demand. Almost half (46%) note their company doesn’t currently use such apps – calling for immediate adoption of cloud-based technology to thrive.

Wi-Fi is a ‘must’ for customers and employees

Of course, an effective cloud strategy is underpinned by advanced Wi-Fi networking. Connectivity within physical retail stores is critical to deploying digital services and boosting store profits. And it is equally important for both customers and employees to be connected. Employees, no matter where they are in the store, rely on Wi-Fi to access key files and applications to get their jobs done. Customers, on the other hand, use guest Wi-Fi to access marketing offers and online/app shopping tools.

While 99% of respondents report their company offers in-store Wi-Fi, it often provides a sub-optimal experience for customers. When asked to describe the quality and speed of their in-store Wi-Fi, more than half of retailers (58%) note that it is fast but does not effectively engage the customer, whilst just one in five (19%) describe their Wi-Fi as both fast and effective at engaging customers. To stay competitive in 2018, retailers will need to rethink their Wi-Fi deployment and monitoring strategy in order to fully transform their business.

Success rests on superior customer experience

Many traditional retailers are taking an omnichannel approach to improve the customer experience — combining the best of both by embracing online channels whilst maximising brick and mortar sales. Retail strategies for improving the customer experience are primarily twofold: quickly deploying new innovations and applications (53%) and providing a seamless online-to-store experience (50%).

Riverbed’s survey shows a general consensus on how brick and mortar stores will support a push to improve the customer shopping experience by being much more flexible and agile. Almost half of respondents (49%) reveal that monitoring and adapting in real-time to shopping behaviours will be critical, and 47% say gathering insights on customers’ experience and satisfaction, such as through adoption rates or response times in-store, will require a focus.

As these results have shown, to keep pace in an industry on the cusp of great change, retailers will need to embrace next-generation technology in order to optimize their online and in-store channels and provide a seamless customer experience….and it would seem there is still quite some way for many retailers to go before they get there.

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