Giving Thanks for Retail IT
Many retailers are no doubt entering Thanksgiving week with trepidation at the prospect of keeping all systems go during what has become a six-day frenzy of “Black Friday” activity that now runs from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to the Monday after. But retailers actually have quite a bit to be thankful for in the world of IT. Let’s raise an imaginary glass of homemade cider and give thanks for a few helpful technology developments:
The emergence of the cloud as a mainstream technology platform has revolutionized how retailers implement and manage IT. Cloud-based architectures allow retailers to quickly install and deploy even the most complex systems with a minimum of physical infrastructure to roll out or maintain. In addition, cloud-based systems can be extended across the enterprise and around the globe with relative ease. Other benefits include giving retailers much more leeway to implement a system on a trial basis, since if a cloud solution doesn’t produce desired results it can be easily turned off.
As technology increasingly spreads beyond the domain of the IT department and into the daily workstream of employees across the organization, vendors are creating intuitive interfaces that allow non-experts to effectively use advanced systems. Dashboards, graphical user interfaces (GUIs), content management systems, and other user-friendly tools provide a set of controls that allow even the least geeky employees to obtain the benefits of leading-edge applications. Especially in retail, with its slim margins and need for lean organizations, intuitive interfaces can go a long way to increasing the ROI of system investments.
In some respects mobile devices can be seen as a double-edged sword for retail, as they invite showrooming, the instant sharing of customer displeasure via social media and other activities most retailers would prefer to avoid. However, on the whole, mobile devices offer retailers a range of benefits that more than compensate for the occasional lost sale or disgruntled tweet.
Most importantly, mobile devices allow otherwise unobtainable levels of customer intimacy. No other technology lets you know exactly where your customer is and respond to their location and behavior in real time with contextually appropriate, personalized messages, offers and discounts. In addition, mobile devices let store employees bring extremely high levels of efficiency and effectiveness to their customer-facing activities (which should help further alleviate mobile showrooming and venting).
Anyone who has ever fumbled for a credit card or sorted through a wad of bills of various denominations at a checkout terminal knows that paying for a purchase can often be the most frustrating and onerous part. Digital wallet applications let customers pay for purchases almost instantaneously and eliminate the need to remember a certain credit card or visit the ATM before entering a store.
Some digital wallet solutions also allow consumers to store e-coupons, targeted offers and other virtual promotions that make physical purchases more enticing. Add in the fact that digital wallets help eliminate long waits at the checkout queue and make the job of the POS associate easier, and you have one more reason to give thanks. Now pass the stuffing!