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Technology Value: Retailers leverage the big data and mobile opportunity

October 16, 2015
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The advent of the “digital customer” who has access to multiple sources of information and is always on the move is transforming the landscape of the retail industry. To benefit from the increasing adoption of mobile devices, industry players are looking to harness technology for reaching out to the new age customer. With the growing popularity of e-commerce, the retail industry is witnessing the rise of multiple selling channels such as online, kiosks and mail catalogues. Retailers are making significant investments in technology to ensure that their organisations become truly omni-channel by providing a seamless shopping experience to buyers independent of the channel or the format they use for shopping.

A joint report by KPMG and Nasscom focusing on the retail industry identifies six converging technology trends that are driving a significant shift in the 21st century’s business-consumer ecosystem. The technology trends include:

Big data: Retailers have the opportunity to use billions of gigabytes of data generated through large transactions for gaining insights into consumer behaviour and making better decisions. Big data plays an instrumental role in collecting, analysing and interpreting huge volumes of data assimilated by organisations at different stages of a customer lifecycle. With the phenomenal rise of social media, big data usage is also growing in popularity. Big data helps in making sense of unstructured data and using it for improving merchandising, supply chain, marketing and promotions, and store operations. It can also be used for predictive analytics, as well as for identifying and suggesting relevant products and services to existing as well as prospective buyers.

Cloud computing: Cloud computing helps organisations simplify their IT infrastructure, resulting in huge cost savings. The introduction of cloud has helped retailers do away with heavy computing equipment and thus save on space as well as maintenance costs. Further, retailers are using cloud computing for optimising the in-store experience of their customers and maximising sales. Cloud computing also helps improve the mobile point-of-sale experience, processes payments instantly, and turns each customer into a data point, whose buying behaviour can be further analysed to improve consumer relations. Moreover, additional computing power provided by cloud-led infrastructure helps retailers meet the surge in demand from shoppers during festivals and sales.

Social media: With the growing popularity of social networking sites, consumers are increasingly seeking advice for their purchases online. The buying decision of shoppers is by and large being defined and impacted by feedback, reviews and information regarding a product or a service on social media. Further, social networks offer retailers the opportunity to connect with millions of customers and reach out to them individually. Various industries, including retail, are looking to use the data generated through online discussions and forums to rework their sales and marketing strategies.

Mobility: With the growing usage of mobility devices by customers, retailers too are using tools and applications for making mobile-rich content available to buyers. For instance, one of the country’s leading ecommerce players Flipkart has already become an all-mobile app platform. The company has also turned its fashion brand Myntra into a mobile app-only platform. A number of retailers are using in-store Wi-Fi, mobile applications and Beacon technology to reach out to buyers and provide an enhanced customer experience.

Embedded systems: The growing popularity of embedded systems is also contributing to the transformation of the retail industry. These systems are enabling a connected ecosystem of devices that allows retailers to have a real-time view of every step in its value chain. A common application of the embedded systems used extensively in the retail industry is radio frequency identification (RFID). RFID devices are helping retailers overhaul their supply chains. They help them keep track of every product, integrated into a common repository to have a unified and centralised view of information. RFID systems include source tagging systems, barcode labelling systems, hand-held labelling systems and retail merchandising systems. These systems enable applications such as automatic identification, retail security, and pricing and promotional labels. Among retailers, Walmart is one of the pioneers in implementing self-checkout stations that use embedded systems for reading the bar code on each item, computing the value of the total sale, and payment processing.

Augmented reality: Retailers are discovering the benefits of augmented reality (AR) and using it to be closer to shoppers. AR is also used to explore synergies in print and video marketing by designing flyers with “trigger” images that activate a video version of the promotional material when scanned by an AR-enabled device using image recognition. AR technology has made it possible for phones to become barcode scanners, which offer extra information and online prices.

With the growing popularity of mobile and online media, the key to success in the retail industry is the greater integration of various functions in the value chain. This can be achieved by employing big data and leveraging technologies like cloud computing and mobility solutions for ensuring higher sales and rich customer experience.

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