As the digital and physical worlds continue to blur, it is clear that digital services will only continue to impact our lives further.

This article looks at how and why retail is leading the charge when it comes to digital transformation.

From online shopping to paying your taxes online, digital continues to strengthen our relationships with organisations and open up new opportunities to make our lives easier across every sector.

For the retail sector in particular, retail and digital services go hand-in-hand. The retailers stand out compared to other industries and ensures customers get a consistent service through both digital services and in-store.

Retail is arguably the sector that has provided what others have failed to: a multichannel experience that empowers customers to shop in a way that suits them. Whether that is online shopping, click and collect or visiting the high street.

Argos has already started to blend the digital and physical worlds by replacing its paper catalogues with tablets that let customers pay instantly and fast-track the shopping process.

It has also teamed up with Blippar, an augmented reality app that lets people scan from physical catalogues to retrieve more information on mobile devices.

Fashion retailers, including Top Shop, are also using augmented reality to let shoppers 'try on' products.

According to recent research from Fujitsu, online shopping is one of the most valued (63%) and most used (66%) digital service, with one in four consumers always choosing a digital option when available when it comes in retail. It is clear that this industry is leading the charge when it comes to digital.

Why is retail leading this transformation?

Fundamentally retail is an industry that is customer-facing and a big part of this is all about enhancing the in-store experience.

The development of digital technology has allowed retailers to create the right balance in-store, enabling consumers to benefit from both digital and in-store services. This approach provides consumer choice, offering the best customer experience to the variety of consumer shopping habits.

One example of this is the use of beacon technology, which integrates into Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on a person’s mobile phone/tablet to understand their shopping behaviour in-store.

This technology can then be used to collect data, allowing retailers to use location based analytics to understand how their customers are moving throughout their stores, what they are looking at and dwell areas.

Retailers can also understand the effect of promotional items, placement of products, people flow and queue management to help make decisions about the customer journey in-store.

The important part of all of this however, is not to significantly change existing in-store experiences, as a large amount of shoppers remain creatures of habit. Rather, using technology to augment customer experiences (for those who want them augmented!) is what’s important.

By doing this, retailers are allowing consumers to have the ultimate personal experience, as chosen by them.

As digital services continue to become more embedded in our lives, we can expect to see more sectors embracing them. However while retail continues to do well, it is important for those retailers who have not yet embraced digital to start thinking about it, to not only help create the ultimate personal experience for the customer, but also to help avoid being left behind.        

Econsultancy's specialist Digital Transformation team has helped many brands transform their businesses. Get in touch to find out more about our digital transformation services

Mike Sewart

Published 25 September, 2015 by Mike Sewart

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Jason McClean, Director at www.thepropertyinsurer.co.uk

Online is the future for home insurance and insurance of any kind. It reduces office costs and allows policy comparison and competition. It is good for the customer as policy quality is increasing and price decreasing.

Jason McClean
www.thepropertyinsurer.co.uk

over 2 years ago

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Gary McRae, Senior Marketing Manager at Positive Digital

The merging of offline retail experiences with digital is the best example of integrated marketing in a long time. A real opportunity for traditional brick and mortar retail to offer experiences that online only cannot. Thanks for this article.

Gary McRae
www.mcr.ae

over 2 years ago

Simon Liss

Simon Liss, Head of Innovation at Omnifi

Interesting thought starter Mike. There is no doubt that retail in general has been forced to embrace eCommerce, but while there are some great examples of traditional retailers attempting to integrate physical stores with digital tools and channels, I would say that the approach is haphazard and for many has failed.

Beacons, retailer apps and in-store screens have for the most part not delivered - victims of poor strategies, flakey/too early technology and a gimmick driven approach. I am yet to see a grocery chain, bank, restaurant or bar who has measurably improved bricks-and-mortar customer experience through technology. I'm not saying they won't, or can't, but to blow retail's trumpet right now (with some notable exceptions) is IMO a little premature.

Oh, and I work in retail technology, so it's not that I'm down on the whole thing, I just think there is scope for so much more in terms of technology's potential to improve retail experience and efficiency for multi-channel brands. The next few years in this space are going to be very interesting!

Simon Liss
https://www.omnifi.co.uk

over 2 years ago

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Devika G, Marketing Content Associate at MobStac

Good read, Mike. And I totally agree with what you said, Of recent there has been a tremendous increase in the demand for contextually relevant experiences – both online and offline. And this is one of the primary reasons for the huge hype behind beacons. Brands are today are busy trying to leverage customer context to orchestrate brand experiences that engage customers in a more personalized way. Yet even today not many marketers have a good idea about how to devise a beacon pilot roadmap. We have discussed in detail about 3 critical components of a successful beacon strategy for retailers here: http://blog.beaconstac.com/2015/05/3-critical-components-of-your-ibeacon-retail-strategy-2/

over 2 years ago

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Mike Sewart, Director, Fujitsu Digital at Fujitsu

Hi Devlka - a good blog on beacons. Like Simon, you refer to the common issue within Digital where companies look at silo'ed implementations. Beacons are a great new technology but they should form part of a wider user experience strategy.

Mike.

over 2 years ago

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Mike Sewart, Director, Fujitsu Digital at Fujitsu

Hey Simon - some good points. I do agree that there is a lot of hype around some new technology, but there are some good examples where technology is starting to change customer experience. ScrewFix for example are making good progress with their new apps for speeding up the ordering process. In addition, the linkage of VoucherCloud to wifi hotspots near to retail / hospitality shops to push promotional content to nearby shoppers is another good example.

So I think there is progress! As ever, the integration to back-end systems is always the complex area, which is why a holistic digital transformation strategy is needed rather than silo'ed front-end systems.

Mike.

over 2 years ago

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