Retail Digital Transformation: How To Leverage Tech Innovation Wisely
Tech innovation in retail has been running at a breakneck pace in the last decade. A host of solutions have appeared on the horizon, including everything from blockchain and augmented reality to advances in data science and machine learning that have found practical application in the retail sector.
There are important questions for companies, though, about whether they need to be in on the rush to adopt emerging technologies. Having the opportunity to experiment with different options is always worthwhile, but many firms make the mistake of diving into innovation without having serious plans in place. There's more to the process than simply following the hot trends in the retail industry. Relationships with partners need to be developed, and tech innovators need to understand the difference between investing in possibilities and just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.
Every business should have a goal to prevent failure in its efforts. Every innovative product should be first and foremost driven by business. To do so, it can be advantageous to look at the missteps that have led others away from success—and avoid them in your own story.
Have A Real Plan In Place
Worrying about missing out on the next big thing isn't a plan, and yet even multibillion-dollar global enterprises find ways to follow trends rather than innovate. For example, Microsoft found itself at the opposite end of success with their Kinect technology. Originally launched largely as an entertainment product, Kinect utilized motion capture to accept commands on their flagship entertainment product, the Xbox One. However, Kinect not only failed to resonate with Microsoft's customers, it came far too early to be useful. Now this technology is supposed to be used in retail for smart mirrors – virtual fitting rooms.
Instead of buying into the hype, outline your goals and to figure out what will be needed to get where you intend to go. Map out a precise strategy which ensures that your innovations improve customer experience or streamline processes as opposed to introducing tech for its own sake. What is the actual need for technology? Who's asking for solutions, and what are they asking for? What are the metrics to measure the success of your efforts?
Another important question is: are your end users ready for innovation? New technologies always run the risk of running aground of the different attitudes of consumers. All consumers fall somewhere on a spectrum from downright luddites to people who have to have the newest whatever. Most people, though, lag. That can spell doom for retail innovations before they even get off the ground.
For example, J.C. Penney managed to wreck its coupon system during its attempt at digital transformation, at once alienating older non-tech customers and failing to gain traction with a new customer base. Conversely, Amazon has done an excellent job of building around Alexa voice search and introducing devices that leverage its capabilities. Amazon does this by always keeping one eye on the metrics from its existing users, and it tailors each rollout to what it learns that they like.
Your approach to retail innovation should be the same. If you have an existing tech base in place, mine it for insights into what you can do better and what you can do next.
Find The Right Technology Partner
Implementation of your tech solution will require help of a partner that has the expertise to breathe life into your vision. The job has to be done with an understanding of what's feasible with your infrastructure and processes.
When looking for the right partner, conduct due diligence and learn about case studies involving other operations they've partnered with. Learn how they approach the job of turning innovation into action, and focus on whether the experiences others have had with them qualifies them to handle your rollout.
Focus On Core Business
While Your Team Builds The Product
Your technology partner should offer well-established project processes that will help you be on the same page with your team members from the very beginning, effectively going through every stage of your project, shaping ideas into accomplished milestones.
For example, our own approach to product development says that you need to focus on your core business matters while our job is to take care of the project routine and effective coordination.
The early stages typically comprise business analysis and UI/UX design. Upon their completion, you will have tangible results: the logic of your future product, which can be prioritized and prepared for iterative implementation. Well-prepared foundation will facilitate faster actions and deliveries. The product development process is a topic worth a separate discussion, so in search of details please visit this guide, which was inspired by years of our own productive experience as a technology partner.
For more complex products—e.g. ERP or POS systems—it may be critical
that your efforts communicate the importance of training. Even with an
intuitive interface, end users might need an introduction to the
product. Decide who will handle the training process. Set aside times
and places for in-person training sessions, and be prepared to take
feedback from the process. By communicating about training needs early,
you'll have more issues sorted out by launch day.
Eventually, the first release of your production-ready solution is just the beginning of a long success story, where you will be involving new adopters, evolving and marketing your solution, gradually taking it to new levels. At this moment, you will have a dedicated team that perfectly knows your product. The same team will be able to develop it further in accordance with the needs of adopters—which is especially crucial for B2B products—and your own ever-changing business environment.
Retail innovation through emerging technologies is inherently transformative. To avoid doing more harm than good, you need to have a solid plan in place. Partners need to be lined up to ensure that the underlying systems will be there to support a large ecosystem when the time comes to launch. By leaning on expert advice and listening to feedback from employees and consumers, you can turn your dreams of innovation into transformative change.
About the Author
Alan Winters, Head of US Business Development at MobiDev, is an entrepreneur with 20+ years of diverse experience directing divisions of large corporations and guiding start-ups and emerging companies.
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