The Retailer of the Future

By definition, the retailer of the future isn’t here yet. It’s in the future. But many of the technologies on which the retailer of the future will be built are on the ground now, or at least developed to the point of credibility. And the responsibility for aggregating, analyzing, and delivering data for a superior customer experience—one that affects the retail bottom line—will fall largely on the network.

Let’s take a look at a few transformative technologies and their use cases in the future of retailing.

Mobility. Where to begin? It has become so ubiquitous that it’s an umbrella of business use cases. We’re not just talking about 4G LTE connectivity that allows retailers to transmit coupons and special offers to mobile phones, or enhancing the customer experience by providing Wi-Fi connections in store. Other mobile technologies come into play—and several of them are in use right now.

Beacon technology can send a Bluetooth wireless signal to the mobile devices of passing shoppers, alerting them to nearby special offers. Wayfinding technologies can infer from a user’s search patterns what their buying intentions are and direct them to the best offers are also in play in the highest-end retail malls in the world.

Heat-mapping—determining traffic patterns from the signals of customer mobile signals—can help merchandisers refine their presentations based on dwell time and route traffic accordingly by adjusting indoor displays.

Analytics. Retailers are no stranger to analytics. By connecting buying preferences with transactions, a retailer can build a customer picture. The data collected by loyalty programs can refine that profile. But a batch-processed approach to defining the customer misses out on real-time marketing offers that can reach the customer where and when it’s most likely to cause a conversion.

The rubber really meets the road where analytics and mobility come together. Given a customer’s transaction history, his or her search history through a store portal, his or her physical location through any of a number of technologies, that right-place-right-time-right-offer equation can be put to work.

Storage technology. To deliver that right-place-right-time-right-offer solution requires virtually instantaneous data analytics. Many vendors offer in-memory analytics, but they’re dependent on the speed and volume of data delivery. The cost for solid state flash memory, orders of magnitude fatser than spinning disks, has dropped dramatically over the last two years, making it practical to build arrays that can deliver near-real-time analytical offers.

Sensor technologies. The Internet of Things (IoT) is fast becoming a reality, but sensor technologies have been embedded in our lives—for example, the telemetry within the contemporary automobile. Picture a full-service app that monitors the condition of an automobile’s parts and directs them to shops for deals on what ails them. Or—and this should strike a chord, given the volatility of prices today—a system that can monitor the volume of gas in a vehicle, slice and dice with the prices at en route gas stations, and recommend where it is most efficient and least expensive to fill up?

Sensors embedded in parking pads can notify an application about the availability of spots, which would be relayed to a Web portal so customers can see on their mobile devices where parking is available in the lot.

Display technologies. These are a last-mile technology, one that connects backend data manipulation with point-of-sale offerings. Sure, the resolution and frame rates are getting better, which allows retailers to deliver more dynamic messaging. But it’s the integration with other technologies—beaconing, analytics, Wi-Fi—that makes new display technology more compelling.

Picture this: A loyal customer walks into a department store. She has a history of purchasing particular products. As she cruises the aisle, beaconing technology allows the analytics platform to deliver a narrowly customized offer to her mobile device, perhaps tying it to the purchase of another frequent purchase, or a promotional item. This offer can be reinforced by digital signage, which could direct the customer to SKU and even display her cost savings. On a more commodity level, a retailer could change prices on display shelves in real time.

We’ve barely scratched the surface of the possibilities that today’s technology can offer to the retailer of the future. One thing is clear, though: It’s going to be dependent on almost instantaneous, absolutely bulletproof, secure network technology to make it a reality.

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