January 22, 2018
How to Be Smart When Implementing New Retail Technologies
Recognizing business benefits is easier than achieving them. Here’s why.
With competition growing, retailers are looking for even more ways to operate efficiently while providing the kind of shopping experiences that will keep customers in stores longer and returning more often.
The good news: There’s no shortage of new technologies.
Now the bad news: There’s no shortage of new technologies.
And even more are on the horizon.
Before implementing these technologies, however, retailers must consider how they will coexist with legacy systems in their infrastructure. Let’s go back a few years to help illustrate this point. Back in 2013, JCPenney replaced its checkout registers with handheld point-of-sale terminals to spare shoppers from hassles such as standing in line. But the customer experience suffered partly because JCPenney didn’t first assess its stores’ existing infrastructure to ensure enough coverage and capacity could withstand the bandwidth. Unfortunately, it didn’t and the company learned a hard lesson.
Retailers’ Top IT Priorities
As customer insights manager for retail and hospitality at CDW, I recently spoke with some of our top retail customers, primarily those with brick-and-mortar locations, about their top priorities for 2018. The responses aligned with what CDW also heard from our September survey of approximately 350 IT decision-makers in retail and hospitality. One common priority was finding ways to add new technologies — such as beacons for customer wayfinding, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) for inventory management — and have them coexist with their legacy systems. That’s easier said than done, as JCPenney and countless other retailers have found.
Recently, coming out of NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, I’ve noticed that retailers are interested in adding business intelligence tools. But our customers cited incompatibility as being one of the top barriers to implementing these tools, such as predictive analytics platforms. Security is another barrier, and not just for BI. The last thing anyone wants is a new technology knocking legacy systems out of Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard compliance, or creating a back door for hackers.
Another barrier is being able to analyze and act on the data that new technologies provide. For example, in our September survey, 34 percent said their staff’s lack of data analytics expertise would undermine their company’s ability to use new BI tools. So right there, retailers are looking at other forms of software applications.
Yet retailers know these new technologies are must-haves in order to compete in the brick-and-mortar world and online. To implement them successfully, they’re increasingly turning to consultants such as CDW to identify and overcome the challenges. Among the retailers CDW interviewed, 68 percent were either extremely or very interested in using a consultant to implement new systems covering inventory management and staff productivity.
Keeping the Big Picture in Mind
Whether it’s extending your data center to the cloud — another common priority — adding RFID to track inventory, linking online and store systems or something else, the digital transformation process should start by assessing your entire infrastructure and identifying where new technologies can be added to achieve business goals. This is especially helpful when a tiered deployment strategy is required.
For example, suppose you are looking at new technologies to capture data, track customer behavior or simply track inventory better. Not to mention the need for additional storage and compute resources to stay ahead of demand during the peak seasons or a major product launch. Look for a consultant that can — and should — look at the big picture, and understanding whether your existing infrastructure can withstand the capacity, determine what technologies you may need to consider beforehand. In this example, offloading to the cloud may make the most sense for you. Regardless, it should be what could work with your current environment, instead of a full “rip and replace.”
The ideal consultant also can recommend other, future solutions that can meet your business goals. For instance, at CDW, our knowledge of your business goals allows us to provide you insights that you will need today to avoid any future obstacles. That guidance means you’re better able to identify today how, say, the Internet of Things can be implemented in your business with the least amount of disruption, providing a better omnichannel experience and new, deep business intelligence insights, when you are ready.