Retail technology view from the top: Oracle's Sarah Taylor

As new systems and digital capability continue to evolve the way retailers run their businesses, Essential Retail is gauging the views of the sector's main figureheads, via a series of exclusive interviews. This week it's the turn of Oracle Retail's senior director for EMEA, Sarah Taylor.

Consumers now have "little patience" when shopping for goods and there needs to be greater innovation around the way retailers manage their products, according to Oracle Retail's senior director for EMEA, Sarah Taylor.

Talking to Essential Retail, the technology boss argued that the concept around inventory always being available has actually superseded the importance of price in the minds of many consumers.

"If we decide we need something we need it now and there's absolutely no tolerance for their being a shortage of availability in any channel in which we wish to source it," she commented.

Taylor suggested that price is still important, as the fierce battle for market share in the grocery sector in recent months has proved, but she said that if retailers do not have the product available when customers want to purchase it, the price "is irrelevant".

It is a consumer trend that has gained pace over recent years, particularly in the UK, which Oracle views as a sophisticated multichannel shopping nation and where it has identified there is "less tolerance" to out-of-stocks.

"Unless there is availability at the point consumers want to buy it, the retailer is going to lose out in terms of long-term loyalty and overall spend – the two holy grails everyone is trying to improve and increase," explained Taylor.

"I was surprised at how little patience there is among consumers. Shoppers have historically been quite forgiving and quite loyal to long-term relationships with brands – that just doesn't exist any more. We see that impatience grow increasingly day by day as we read about the old favourite retailers struggling to maintain loyalty."

Many of the opinions from Taylor stem from research released by Oracle in the summer, which highlighted consumers' attitudes to shopping. In a world of rapid technological development, vendors can often be accused of forgetting what the customer wants – this has been the case with mobile payments, for example, where it can be argued that a significant percentage of solutions have been marketed over the last 12 months without thinking about the shopping tools people actually desire.

Oracle views the research as a good way to keep track of what consumers want to see from retailers, and the results of the global study, which were published in the white paper The Demand for Commerce Anywhere in Britain's New Retail Democracy, indicated that 90% of British survey respondents would search elsewhere if a product was unavailable. Some 93% said they wanted to understand availability and 40% were inclined to be loyal when a retailer provided information about availability.

Another key finding from the research was that customers want an individual shopping experience and are not enamoured with so-called targeted marketing that treats them as a segment of society. Some 61% of British consumers said they wanted an empowered or individual transaction.

"Just because I buy cat food I don't want them to think that cats are my life," commented Taylor.

"Shoppers really object to the clustering of assumptions – they want efficient and profitable interactions with retailers. If a retailer wants info, the consumer is now expecting a retailer to take their advice. If they ask for something, what they need in return is a genuine interaction that means their involvement is worthwhile."

Individual retailing, she noted, is no longer about points and prizes – it's about truly getting to know a customer.

During last week's annual trading results announcement from and Littlewoods parent company Shop Direct, it was announced that one of the key strategies for the company is to improve personalisation in the online shopping journey. The business is using the Oracle Commerce solution as part of this process, which is helping contribute to a significant upturn in sales and profit at the retailer in the 12 months to 30 June 2014.

"Shop Direct can make changes quickly to the shopping experience based on what it learns and it is driving a business model that really speaks to its customers," said the Oracle retail lead.

Much talk in the last couple of years has centred on the impact that the mobile-using, social media consuming and increasingly demanding 'millennial generation' is having – and will continue to have – on the retail industry this next decade, but the vast majority of consumers are still from an age before the internet was launched and before technology played such a consumer-facing role in the shopping process.

It is clear retailers must digitalise their services to suit the modern shopper, but at the same time it will be important not to forget the shoppers who perhaps follow a more traditional route to making a purchase.

Taylor believes technology is touching every shopper demographic, though, making it a crucial investment area for retailers as they move into the new year and beyond.

"Everyone understands the power of technology and everyone wants some level of tech in their experience," she noted.

"Even if you are a steadfast store shopper, you want an environment where the employees are empowered to serve you so they have the information you need to make a purchasing decision, so you get the product as quickly as possible.

"If people are shopping online at work, collecting on the way home or searching online and then going in-store, they are absolutely categorically demanding that the tech is in place to serve their needs by offering the right product at the right time."

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