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Omnichannel Technology – A Holistic Approach to Retail?

omni-channel

Omnichannel Technology – A Holistic Approach to Retail?

As brands and retailers struggle to stay afloat in the chaos caused by COVID-19, e-commerce has been a game-changer for some and a lifeline for many. Despite non-essential stores in the UK being granted the right to open their doors over a month ago, footfall continues to be disappointing, at just 50% of what it was a year ago. We clearly can’t rely on a bounce back to normal as many had once hoped. Coronavirus fears are likely to remain until there is a vaccine or a truly significant drop in infections, with some experts estimating that the worst effects of the crisis could continue well into the first quarter of 2021.

Many previously brick-and-mortar-only stores are now adding e-commerce options to their arsenal – the Shopify share price alone has more than doubled since February. However, despite a rush to digitalize, the fashion industry has been one of the hardest hit by the crisis – homeworkers are less likely to buy new clothes; special events, vacations and parties have been canceled; and apparel is often the first cutback consumers make when looking to save on costs. We may be able to survive by using e-commerce options, but in order to once more thrive perhaps, it’s time to start thinking about e-commerce, not as a separate digital version of our stores for the online customer, but as a vital part of all of our customers’ holistic online/offline experience. Consumer habits are changing, and if the high street is to survive, it will need to create an immersive experience that makes the customer’s life easy, whether online or off.

Which brings us to omni-channel retail. Most professionals in the e-commerce and retail sectors use this terminology to apply to the practice of listing products across various online marketplaces. But what if we think of it in another way? What if omni-channel or “all channels” referred to every point in which we are in contact with the customer across their retail journey? From a poster on the street to an advert on Facebook, a visit to our store or a comparison of prices online. Imagine a fully integrated experience in which the customer journey is seamless and pleasurable. In order to achieve this we need new technologies, but fortunately, it’s not a case of inventing the wheel. There are already a number of futuristic technologies that have been around for some time, although it’s only recently that their functionality in the future of retail is being truly explored. With TradeGala – the B2B online marketplace, B2B fashion is simplified for both brands and buyers, with a retail-like, user-friendly e-commerce platform that allows buyers to go from order to receipt in less than a week.

Augmented Reality

Just a year or so ago, the idea of trying on clothes, shoes or make-up “virtually” seemed like something out of a Blade Runner fantasy. And yet, we’re all familiar with the Snapchat filters which gave us instant cat ears or allowed us to see what we’d look like in 50 years’ time. The first of these filters came out over 5 years ago, so the technology is certainly not new – and now Snapchat itself has partnered with footwear giants such as Nike and Adidas to allow consumers to try on a pair of virtual shoes before they buy. Zeekit is another industry pioneer, creating a virtual dressing room experience that allows online shoppers to “try on” clothing from home, taking into consideration the specifications of the product along with the customer’s height and body type. Within the beauty industry, Sephora and MAC were some of the first to introduce the Virtual Mirror to selected stores, allowing clients to try out different shades of makeup via an interactive “mirror” before making a purchase. Considered by some to be a gimmick at the time, with recent concerns about hygiene in both beauty and fashion, AR technologies are likely to become a necessity moving forward into a more health-conscious future, both at home and in stores.

Mobile Integration

QR codes are becoming ever more present in our lives. Bars and restaurants are using them to allow customers to download menus or make orders without going to the bar, while in New Zealand stores must display unique QR codes with which customers can trace their movements as part of the COVID Tracking app. Some forward-thinking retailers are using the same technology to help bridge the online/offline experience – Lone Design Club in London has been experimenting with window shopping QR codes, allowing customers passing their store to scan the products in their display and order directly online before taking another step. Even as stores open, consumers are likely to be wary of crowds and queueing at tills, but this versatile technology offers them the chance to check the stock in-store before they enter, and even scan and pay for items via their phone, thus minimizing their time in-store and contact with assistants and other shoppers.

Squad shopping

Online video conferencing and chat has now become part of our everyday lives, not only at work but in order to stay in touch with friends and family while separated. It’s no longer unusual for friends to watch a film together online while hundreds of miles apart, or have dinner and drinks via Whatsapp. And, thanks to apps such Squadded, online retailers can now recreate the fun of shopping with friends online – with peer advice and encouragement being a tried and tested booster for both sales and customer satisfaction. Many big brands including Asos, Boohoo and Missguided have already adopted the technology, and Chinese consumers (often ahead of the crowd) have embraced the trend with social e-commerce sales in the first quarter of 2020 already eclipsing the whole of 2019.

Livestream Shopping

Another trend that has become hugely popular in China, livestream shopping is the QVC of social media, and it’s causing a stir as brands start to take notice. China’s leading live commerce platform, Taobao Live, has reported a 150% growth year on year over the past 3 years, and the Coronavirus lockdown has only increased its popularity. Popular influencers model products, answer questions & give their opinion while offers and limited stock alerts flash up on the screen, and eager viewers can go from like to purchase in a simple click. Influencer marketing is already big business, livestream retail is perhaps the next logical step in the customer journey.

Just a few years ago, most of these technologies would have seemed out of reach, accessible only to the biggest brands with the fattest wallets. But now, with social media platforms incorporating more and more online services into their portfolios, e-commerce SAS providers constantly upping their game, and app designers creating low-cost solutions at an alarming rate, retailers of all sizes can now jump on the omni-channel trend. E-commerce is the future of retail, but it may not be e-commerce as we know it. To paraphrase Squadded’s acute observation – Buying is the result, Shopping should be an experience.

5 Outdated IT Practices That Companies Need To Eliminate

Technology changes nearly as quickly as the calendar flips. A new device or upgrade that was trending not long ago may become antiquated or obsolete before you know it.

Information technology is integral to most businesses today, but keeping up with the interrelated parts of IT and the advancements – from software to cyber security to social media platforms – isn’t always prioritized. IT experts say companies falling behind in that category could see their business slip as a result. 

“Over the last several years, many IT practices have become fixed and inflexible,” says Chris Hoose (www.choosenetworks.com), an IT consultant who works with small businesses. “While older concepts are a good springboard, some have become ineffective. There are many you can reconsider and/or eliminate.”

Hoose looks at five IT practices he thinks businesses should stop using:

Outdated software. One of the biggest security vulnerabilities a company can face is one of the simplest to address: outdated software. “There are many risks associated with using unsupported or outdated software, and hackers love to exploit these gaps,” Hoose says. “Then there are the inevitable problems of a system failure or antiquated workflows that slow a company’s productivity. Although upgrading software – including your operating systems – can be time-consuming and expensive, doing so can safeguard your organization and create more room for innovations.”

In-house server hosting. Much of today’s modern software is hosted in the cloud. “Most cloud vendors are able to provide public, private or hybrid cloud hosting based on your requirements,” Hoose says. “With such extensive cloud capability, there is no reason anymore to rely on in-house server hosting. Migrating to these versions can not only help save your business the costs of purchasing and maintaining software, but also the costs of maintenance and upkeep on servers.” Another plus of cloud computing is the added security of cloud disaster recovery, a backup and restore capability that enables companies to recover data and switch to a secondary operational mode.

Inflexible work environment. The new wave of the workforce is an IT strategy that includes video cameras and laptops for team members to facilitate remote work and remote communications. “If your firm doesn’t have that flexibility, they risk being left behind,” Hoose says. “Flexible work arrangements improve a company’s effectiveness and morale. It’s one of the best uses of today’s IT.”

Newsgroups and discussion forums. These popular mediums once served as portals where questions were raised from the team and answers were provided in a question-and-answer format. Better alternatives, Hoose says, are options like Facebook, Hangouts or Slack. “The format is far more intuitive and user-friendly with social media pages than with conventional discussion forums,” he says. “Also, multiple answers can be handled easily with social-media pages.”

Unnecessary complexity. Hoose says an overly complex structure is the core failing of legacy systems. “Rethink your architecture and prioritize for simplicity,” he says. “When modernizing your systems, less is more in terms of both architecture and functionality. You can start by implementing only the most important features. Make sure the new application will worrk well with the rest of the tools used in your business by default. Whatever applications you choose, make sure you use a solid and future-ready technology stack to deliver optimal performance.”

“Many executives are unsure, or even unaware, of the risk that obsolescence presents to their technology portfolios,” Hoose says. “Their uncertainty stems from not having the right data and dealing with conflicting points of view on priority, value, and risk.”

About Chris Hoose

Chris Hoose (www.choosenetworks.com) is the president of Choose Networks, an IT consulting firm for small businesses. Hoose started the company in 2001 to give large-scale solutions and support to businesses that can’t afford their own in-house IT department. He earned a Master of Information Systems Management from Friends University.