Blog Post - Craig Harper-Ashton, Aug 16 2017

Investing in new online retail technology? Remember this.

Investing in new online retail technology? Remember this.

What to remember when investing in new online retail technology

Craig Harper-Ashton, Multichannel Director has written this blog as part of a series for IMRG, the UK's online retail association.

As the retail sector has evolved, retailers have seen an organic shift towards technology-driven ideas that offer the most convenience, speed and ultimately best service.

This article will explore the challenges of keeping up in the ever-evolving online retail sector, the importance of bold leadership in online retail, and look at what to remember when investing in new online retail technology.

Online retail innovation

The industry leader Amazon has been central to moving the retail sector forward. This is largely due to its creative and innovative prowess – its Dash, Echo, Go and Fresh concepts all place innovation at the very forefront of its service.

Amazon has reshaped the ecommerce model entirely over the past decade by introducing concepts such as next day-delivery, Prime and its potential drone delivery service. While the latter is still in beta, what’s evident is that retailers now face the unprecedented challenge of developing the ecommerce platforms that feed modern-day customers’ craving for immediacy.

However, switching to digitally-driven platforms can be tricky when balancing legacy infrastructure, the myriad of technology and increasingly demanding customer needs.

Retailers must constantly reshape their services to keep up with the rise of digital, whilst also reacting to the changes in shoppers’ traits which are being driven towards a preference to service loyalty over brand reputation. The initial consequence of not doing so could lead to your business becoming outdated and falling behind more savvy competitors.

More practically, not having a fully integrated front and back end system that works together will prevent an organisation from performing the necessary complex functions that take a product from warehouse fulfilment to the customer’s hands. This is the ultimate end goal for all businesses.

Embracing technology can be problematic in an ever-changing industry

Technology has shifted the industry and retailers cannot afford to lie still in such a fast-moving industry. Yet, deciding which technology to invest in can feel like a daunting task. From the use of in-store technology like virtual and augmented reality, to artificial intelligence and Internet of Things, there is arguably too much choice.

Our research found that Internet of Things was the biggest target for growth, with over three-fifths (61%) of ecommerce decision makers currently choosing to invest in the area; other areas that were highly sought after included automation (53%), new payment methods like bitcoin (51%) and voice technology (47%) like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

With the wealth of technology available nowadays ecommerce has undoubtedly become one of the biggest driving forces for any business. But what shouldn’t be forgotten is the importance of investing in the right online retail technology for your business. There is no use in Tesco investing in IoT if its core customer base wants to use voice technology to order their products.

What is the best online retail technology for my business? How can I create an unbeatable customer experience? Is my platform digitally prepared for the next generation of shoppers?

These are all questions that businesses should be asking themselves. The key lies in creating a vision that articulates the strategic direction of your ecommerce plan. Retailers must think 20 years ahead, not three years; the long-term gain far outweighs any short term profits. Those that are bold and take the smartest leap will see their brand and customer service thrive.

Being brave and confronting challenges in retail will reap success

With all areas of technology there are always going to be challenges to overcome. The old adage often associated with the newspaper industry is a good example here; news is old the second it is published.

While it’s true that technology can be guilty of its own success, and is all too often replaced in an instant, there is a hidden pain point that retailers might come across when looking to implement new ecommerce platforms. 30% of online retail players cite a business’s resistance to change as a major hurdle.

Trying to secure funding for a major overhaul of a system can be seen as a burden, almost like an inconvenience to the retailer’s operations. This is particularly true in bigger organisations that pose distinctly more levels of approval for any change to be implemented. The only route to overcome this issue is strong leadership. Aligning all areas of the business together beforehand will enable a much stronger vision to emerge, and therefore lead to a much better overall service.

Similarly, ecommerce leaders mustn’t be content with a ‘yes’ man all the time and should team up with the right partner that is willing to guide and challenge their ideas.

All too often, retailers start with the functionalities of a platform before considering how it will change their relationship with the customer. Imagine the success rate if this process was turned on its head. Start with a vision that you want your customers to go through, and move onto the finer details afterwards.

Taking a step back and using customer feedback to actually listen to what your customers want to see will help achieve this. There is clearly an appetite to fund new technologies; as few as 18% of ecommerce decision makers have no interest in technology until it has been proven in the market.

What’s next in the future of ecommerce?

Changing or updating ecommerce platforms is complicated but as retailers are forced to rethink their approach they should be excited towards innovative technology; our recent statistics found that 60% of UK consumers would be more likely to spend with a retailer that was digitally innovative.

Selecting a platform that fits your vision and core processes, and then evaluating your current platform against other ecommerce-driven ideas will be the only route to success. Retail as a sector is very fickle – one day you’re the most relevant brand but complacency could see your business outdated in a matter of weeks.

Organisations need to be able to adjust as they evolve and choosing the right platform, and tech partner, will be crucial to achieving the best possible result.

Being able to scale up with ease will be incredibly important in combatting digitally native firms, and flexibility will also play its part in developing a platform that customers need; this is all too relevant in the ecommerce world where users demand convenience every step of the way.

Conclusion

When investing in online retail technology, remember:

  1. Think long-term. That’s decades, not years.
  2. You don’t have to guess what technology your customers will want. You can ask.
  3. Measure, adjust, scale. Find a platform that fits your needs, but also be willing to change.

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