My recent quest for a new kayak began with online research and ended at a local store where I presented the clerk with the model number of the kayak, and confirmation that the Web site indicated it was available at this location. She punched the number into a desktop terminal, verifying it was, indeed, in stock, and we made our way outside to the seasonal items section. She manually fumbled through the tags of about 25 kayaks only to determine the one I wanted was not there.
Contrast this with a trip earlier this year to a different retailer, where I was stocking up on my favorite beauty products. On the shelf sat one lonely tube of my coveted Bliss moisturizer, but a clerk armed with a smartphone and a can-do attitude quickly checked inventory to secure the extra ones I wanted. Then, instead of standing in a lineup to pay, she took my credit card and processed my purchase on the spot.
Unified communications enables a better shopping experience, so it’s no surprise UC adoption rates are starting to tick up in the retail sector. Market researcher IDC predicts the retail industry can “reinvent itself “ by taking advantages of unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) technologies.
As in many industries, adoption of UC in the retail market is driven by increased productivity (43%); reduced operational expenses (40%) and improved customer service (28%) while the barriers to adoption include cost (38%) and a lack of training for users (31%).
In a recent webinar IDC senior research analyst Rich Costello outlined guidance for how companies at each of the five stages on the UC maturity model continuum – ad hoc; opportunistic; repeatable; managed and optimized – can successfully advance to the next level.
The majority of companies (63%) fall into the opportunistic or repeatable stages of the model, meaning they have basic project management processes in place, a documented strategy and some stakeholder buy-in. In a retail scenario, this could take the form of a national player having one or more UC pilot projects that may be funded locally, but are not part of the company’s overall investment strategy.
“In the opportunistic phase, there are some functional UC&C deployments and the business value becomes evident,” says Costello. “In (the) repeatable (phase) we see more persistent UC&C adoption, but the business value remains in local business sites.”
Shifting from opportunistic to repeatable involves breaking down organizational resistance to change and eroding communication silos. Retailers should focus efforts on the end-user experience, adds Costello, but maintain a flexible mindset in their choice of UC tools.
“Ensure you don’t lock yourself into a rigid IT architecture that can’t be adapted,” he says.
During the repeatable stage, IDC advises companies to perform cost-benefit analysis for projects and to examine each vendor’s architectural approach to see how it allows customers to leverage existing equipment, centralize network intelligence, support standards, and distribute UC&C applications to all business users.
The best approach is to start small with a project that promises a positive return on the investment of time, energy and money.
“A lot of customers have started with just one application and then utilize it well,” says Costello. “It tends to organically grow.”