At the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) this year, conversational commerce was in, and in a big way. Many different research initiatives were announced by several companies. It’s clear that listening and communication devices and natural language recognition are going to be redefining the shopper experience for years to come. That said, the largest value will still be how a retailer manages and sorts through data.
Data-driven decision-making is one of the hottest topics in retail and discovering exactly what the term means and how it will advance our industry is a defining challenge.
Understanding how data will evolve and transform day-to-day or long-term strategic direction is a complex matter at best, and a swampy mire at worst. I’m no futurist, but I have my finger on the pulse of some of the most important issues and developments that will alter the future of retail, and I want to share some of them with you so we can discover together what might lie ahead.
Post-channel or Omnichannel?
Most customers aren't concerned about which channel they use to engage with a retailer. From their perspective, being funneled through various channels on the way to a purchase often throws irritating obstacles in the way of that purchase. We’re in a new era. Whether you brand it the era of omnichannel, unified commerce, or conversational commerce, one thing’s for certain: data is the driver.
If I’m looking for a new shirt, being forced to decide between going into a store and navigating that particular time sink is not the most enjoyable option. Conversely, having to navigate an abstract online storefront where I’m unsure about sizing is also unpalatable.
The “post-channel” world works to solve problems inherent to both in-store and online. Retailers leverage information about my past purchases, employee conversations, and other interactions with a given brand or store to get me the shirt I want on a “fourth channel.” Products that are selected for me with my data and then delivered to my door (with my permission, obviously) are the way forward. Amazon dove headfirst into this industry, providing replenishment of favorite products in a seamless and easy fashion.
Decisions Driven by Data
While the little picture I painted above is enticing, the challenges associated with building a big data play are significant. Businesses can have enormous amounts of data surrounding a single transaction, but unless it’s partitioned and organized, they can also have a big mess. Compound that with the numerous streams of data generated by consumer interactions on e-commerce portals, social media, geographic information, smart tech, and the IoT; it’s a major, intricate, and often confusing undertaking.
That’s why the RFID-instrumented store is so enticing. Systems that allow for rapid organization, sorting and segmentation are extremely promising, giving retailers the ability to build a Gutenberg-level development — data that’s explorable, searchable, dynamic, and responsive to customer needs and demands. A better understanding of causation, especially in a customer purchasing context, is going to be extremely valuable.
Mobility and Consumer-Facing Retail
Alongside all this new data and its potential uses, we have a suite of mobile devices and business processes that are enhancing the retail experience, online and off.
Mobility has matured, and the industry has a clear understanding that mobile devices can create actionable results. Whether it be gathering customer information in store or using smart devices to track inventory and update signage, the ability to make business omnipresent is unlocking new opportunities and challenges.
All this works toward a redefinition of what “product” means. We’re moving away from the traditional model of things, where you buy something and that’s the end of the experience. Curated assortments of goods and services are the future — from SKU delivery and subscription services to personalized consumer education about new products and offerings. There’s a whole world available to retailers, and all they have to do is unlock it.
Unlocking the Future of Retail
Intel is one driver of the conversation around the future of retail and data. In conjunction with CGF in Berlin, we collaborated with Capgemini to release a white paper entitled, “IoT for Consumer Goods and Retail Businesses, which provides a clear guide to building value from data and the IoT.