Every day, retailers are attempting to figure out how they can react to the expectations and demands consumers place on them thanks to new technology.
Technology in some ways creates higher, sometimes impossible-to-meet, consumer demand for services. The retail industry often struggles to keep pace, but it is now more important than ever for merchants to meet consumers where they frequently these days and that’s usually with a smartphone.
“Mobile devices enable us to bridge the gap between online and offline world and that’s the key,” Frank Zimmerman, CEO for IT provider arvato Systems North America, said during a panel discussion Monday at the NRF Big Show in New York City. “There are so many different ways to do it and we’re just at the very beginning of this change.”
Zimmerman was one of four executives who participated in panel discussion about how mobile technology is changing retail as consumers increasingly demand near-instant gratification with their remote shopping experiences.
The change Zimmerman mentioned is happening at a breakneck pace for traditional retailers, who historically are slow to respond to change. And it will only get more difficult for merchants to adapt in the coming years.
The GSMA expects smartphone adoption to reach 75 percent in Europe and North American by 2020. Some industry pundits suggest worldwide adoption could reach 80 percent over that same time period.
As more consumers are exposed and become accustomed to new ways to shop and pay, the more they will expect the ability to reach and interact with their favorite brands on their smart devices at any time. That creates a challenge (and opportunity) for retailers to better align their remote and physical operations.
“One aspect of [technology] disruption is the power consumers are gaining in terms of how they interact with the brand,” Zimmerman said. “It’s different from window shopping.”
So, the question becomes how retailers can better prepare for the winds of change that come with new technology. Ryan Craver, a former senior vice president of strategy for Lord & Taylor, told attendees during the same panel discussion that all company decision makers need to first admit how technology is changing their customer-facing operations.
“You have to make the sure the entire group of decisions makers acknowledge that we are in a different period of shopping,” he said. “If you know mobile is a catalyst for commerce, it will make the entire organization understand how the customer is changing.”
Craver recommended retail executives make sure they keep tabs on other industries such as fast casual restaurants. For example, chains such as Domino’s Pizza, Taco Bell, and Panera heavily market the order-ahead capability within their respective mobile apps. Craver believes consumers will come to expect similar services from their favorite retailers.
“You have to have this relentless pursuit in how you react to what’s happening in other industries,” Craver said.
The panelists agreed it will take experimentation and time for retailers to perfect the pairing of in-store and mobile experiences.
Faisal Masud, executive vice president for global commerce at Staples, said the office supplies retailer has seen an increase of in-store pick ups from mobile/online orders. But he admitted there are still some hiccups in that process because sometimes a customer will have to wait in line to obtain their order.
“There’s still friction,” he said about the in-store pick up experience. “Retailers often lag behind what the consumer wants.”