Any discussion of the retail industry these days quickly steers to the relentlessly disruptive threat of Amazon. Talk of competition, meanwhile, tends to focus on the question of Amazon vs. Walmart and which of the two will ultimately prevail.
While the influence of these industry behemoths can’t be denied, retailers today can aspire to more than mere survival. Indeed, a number of retailers that vary widely in terms of size, scale and buying experience – think Home Depot, Sephora, Warby Parker – have developed and executed successful strategies that build customer loyalty and reinforce a distinctive brand identity.
I recently spoke to Cristina Ceresoli, Senior Vice President at the National Retail Federation. Her hopeful perspective: “Across the spectrum of players, we’re seeing a lot of success stories.” While technology is certainly key, she adds, successful strategies can vary in specifics.
Clearly, savvy retailers are looking to leverage the Internet of Things, intelligent automation, data analytics and other innovative technologies. Moreover, they’re aligning these technologies with evolving consumer habits and preferences. Consider: conversations with Siri and Alexa are becoming increasingly commonplace for all of us, begging the question: what role can smart digital assistants play in a retail setting, either in the physical store or online? More pointedly, how long before customers who value convenience begin to wonder – if they aren’t already – why there isn’t a Siri-type assistant to help them find what they’re looking for at their favorite boutique, home furnishings or grocery store? Hard as it may be to imagine today, it’s conceivable that before long shoppers will opt to interact with in-store digital salespeople, and keep their phones in their pockets.
While the good news is that retailers today have multiple opportunities to use technology to drive innovation in omnichannel strategy and deliver a memorable and unique shopping experience, the challenge is that there’s no time to waste. Retailers must be able to rapidly assess multiple technology options, prioritize those options, implement quickly and then build on success.
From a development standpoint, a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) methodology can address these objectives by facilitating early testing, flexibility and close collaboration between technical and business teams. An agile “fail fast” mindset, meanwhile, can provide the urgency needed to rapidly assess options, identify a winning approach and leverage technology.
Let’s face it: there’s little room for error for retail strategies in the Age of Amazon. Retailers need to understand their brand identity, and then define and implement a technology strategy that aligns with and builds that identity. Making the right choices – and doing so with a sense of urgency – is essential. Those who dither in deciding on a course of action will find that, by the time they’ve defined their strategy, the ship of opportunity has sailed – carrying customers with it.
Ultimately, the right mix of brand focus and technology tools can allow retailers to “succeed fast” in today’s challenging environment.