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Obstacles to conquer in omni-channel retailing

Obstacles to conquer in omni-channel retailing
Retailers have several paths when it comes to choosing and engaging customers and sales associates. They can choose different mediums such as digital signage and mobile apps and they can also choose who to engage, the sales associate or the customer directly. Each solution has its own tradeoffs and benefits and as in many things in life, the hardest path has the potentially highest returns.

Beacon technology is still at its infancy. Although there are more and more deployments, it is still being tested by the market. “I don’t believe we will see wide-scale retail estate adoption immediately as it is one thing to put a few beacons in a couple of stores, quite another to manage and deploy across 400 store plus estate with multiple beacons in each,” said Alison Wiltshire, Global Practice Lead of Retail and Consumer Goods at BT. “Retailers, especially luxury brands, are also concerned not to aggravate customers by pushing messages, and their adoption — if at all — for beacons will be to provide information to sales associates so that they have personalized information at hand to assist customers.”

In addition, retailers will have to address privacy issues. Although consumers in most cases are willing to give up some privacy for a better shopping experience, retailers will have to manage consent, compliance with relevant regulatory environment, and offer consumers the option to choose what information they wish to share and with whom.

Despite these challenges, beacon technology and omni-channel retail are just the beginning. “IoT has the potential to be a major disruptor in retail,” says Sima Nadler, Worldwide Research Lead for Retail and Commerce at IBM. As worldwide lead for retail research, her role is to serve as a bridge between the retail world and IBM’s researchers, helping researchers focus on innovative solutions relevant to the retail industry.

Nadler’s team developed an indoor location tracking solution, now a formal IBM product that enables retailers to understand the contextual location of shoppers inside their stores so they can create a more personalized shopping experience for customers. Her team also deals with coming up with enterprise solutions to safeguard shoppers’ privacy. However, talking with Nadler opens a window not only to current capabilities, but even more interestingly so, to what the future may look like. Nadler points to new business models and interactions that will be enabled by technology. In the future retailers and shoppers will not only benefit from the ability to know more about products and shoppers’ preferences, but there will also be new types of customers, namely smart appliances and smart homes. The smart home will be aware when we run low on milk or washing powder and will be able to order products automatically.

According to Nadler, this will drive a change in business models and the “traditional” way we shop. “Will the machine be tied to a retailer? To a specific product company? Will a supermarket give you a fridge for free and in return you will order only from them? Or will we still buy our own appliances and order consumables through a middle man?” These questions posted by Nadler are only a few options to consider.

Other technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality are two other advancements that are planned to come to light during 2016 and will influence the way we shop. For example, augmented reality will allow consumers to super impose more data about a product they are interested in; virtual reality will offer shoppers new options to try on clothes at a fitting room and shop from home. These solutions that will eventually be adopted will be the ones that drive retailer revenue the most.

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