Living the technology vision: Realising tomorrow’s retail reality

In recent years, retailers have rediscovered something incredibly important: their purpose. In an increasingly competitive market, they realised they could differentiate their brand by highlighting the distinctive value they provide to consumers.

But knowing what your brand stands for is only part of the challenge. Delivering a customer experience that is faithful to that purpose, and which meets the expectations of always-on consumers, is far from easy. To succeed, retailers need strategic vision, inspiring leadership and – crucially – technology that is agile enough to support what the business needs, both online and in physical stores.

With that in mind, Accenture’s Technology Vision reflects the critical implications of technology for retailers. We examine some of these in the context of today’s (and tomorrow’s) retail landscape:

The high street’s extended reality

Shopping will always be a social activity. Consumers like the convenience of mobile and online shopping, but they also love the experience of visiting physical stores and interacting directly with products. This is why some retailers are breaking the boundary between “brick” and “click” and turning shopping into an immersive experience.

Across the sector, we see immersive experiences in the form of touchscreen ‘smart mirrors’ that recognise the items that customers bring to the fitting room via RFID and suggest ways to style them. And it’s not just personalisation that is enhancing the in-store experience. At one retailer, customers can use digital self-checkout that invisibly recognises their chosen items—no scanning necessary.

Innovative technology in physical stores can enable a more one-to-one service. In the US, Lowe’s is rolling out a customer-helping robot into the aisles of 11 of its stores. And convenience store 7-eleven became the first US retailer to pilot drone delivery, with a trial that dispatched orders via drone.

Enabling ‘intelligence everywhere’

For the consumer, retail innovation should seem natural and seamless. And yet, to make that innovation a reality, retailers must overcome a myriad system-integration challenges.

Take point of sale, as one example. Point of sale is rapidly becoming ‘point of service,’ where every customer interaction is integrated across shopping trolleys, sales history and returns, and then crunched by AI.  It enables retailers to create new value for consumers, but requires them to rethink their technology. Many low-volume retailers, for example, are looking into pre-integrated software-as-a-service models. Conversely, lower-value, high-volume retailers are exploring a platform approach and wide use of open-source solutions.

Regardless of the strategy, integrating numerous consumer touchpoints is rapidly becoming the norm. Consumers expect seamless interactions and the retailer will be able to gain a more realistic view of the how the consumer shops with their brand.

Agility for the frictionless business

In the digital world, companies are enthused by new business models that shift from selling products to delivering solutions. Every business is becoming a technology business – and retail is no exception

Changing how the business makes money is no mean feat, however, and requires a new level of agility. As a result, retailers are incorporating agile methodologies, developing multimodal IT that can run at different speeds, and making full use of DevOps and the cloud. 

Replacing longstanding wholesale models will also require taking some radical steps away from legacy technologies: creating flexible and responsive integration through the adoption of server-less computing and micro-services.

Time to open the internet of thinking

To compete against online-only retailers, retailers need IT architecture that helps them respond to market shifts and emerging consumer trends. This is why retailers are thinking more like start-ups, engaging the broader ecosystem and adopting the latest thinking.

Without the scale of an Alibaba or an Amazon, retailers are increasingly teaming up with other organizations to share customer insights, technology and industry knowledge.

Forming partnerships with other businesses will give brands new capabilities that keep them at the cutting edge of retail—and at the forefront of customers’ minds.

Eighty-two percent of large, global retailers say that ecosystems are important to their disruption strategy, and a third are actively looking for partners today. These new partners could be tech firms, delivery companies or even direct competitors. Building new affiliations with businesses across industries will free retailers to innovate new products and services that meet customers’ changing expectations.

The beauty of ecosystems is that no single company owns or operates all components of the solution, making the value generated much larger than the combined value each of the players contributes individually, and the risk is distributed equally.

Conclusion: Getting ready for tomorrow’s retail landscape

Forging a meaningful and lasting connection with today’s always-on, digital-savvy consumers means using technology in a smart and responsible way. At the same time, it relies on creating new affiliations with businesses across industries to develop new products and services that meet the ambitions of customers and employees. If retailers get this right, they will find themselves at the forefront of tomorrow’s retail landscape.