The IT shopping spree retailers should let themselves take

IDC Retail Insights discusses the potential mistake of putting off technology investments that could boost customer satisfaction

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retail omni-channel Canada

IDC analyst Leslie Hand believes retailers are in need of some serious retail therapy. So she’s urging them to go shopping for some new technology.

In a recent webinar, Hand warned that years of skimping on IT have left retailers with a mish-mash of systems and applications that just can’t deliver the kind of personalized, omni-channel experience consumers expect today.

“Retailers that have kind of gotten trapped behind the result of the last 20 to 40 years of application development and add-ons have ended up with these klutzy systems that they just can’t innovate on,” said Hand, director of research at IDC Retail Insights.

These patchwork IT systems don’t really work together, said Hand. They also deliver a patchwork customer experience that doesn’t really work for consumers either, she concluded.

Hand illustrated retail’s patchwork IT predicament in a recent blog post of her own. She described her quest to buy a dress, shoes, pantyhose and purse for a black tie event. She writes that her ideal shopping experience would have gone something like this:

– “pre-shop” for the items online

– assemble a virtual wish list of items that fit her needs from various retailers’ websites

– instantly compare store locations and inventory availability for these items online

– at the store, receive an updated smartphone list of each item, its availability and a map of where to find them inside the store

– use an in-store app to locate matching shoes, hosiery casino online and purse for each dress

– try on everything in the dressing room

– pick the winners, then make the purchase

In reality, Hand had to visit several stores online and in person. She ended up buying two dresses, a purse that didn’t match either of them, two pairs of shoes and three pairs of pantyhose. Why so many purchases? As Hand lamented in her blog, “I have no idea which products will be available in any given store since online selections are broader than store selections.” Since the online product data didn’t match the in-store inventory, her shopping excursion was more of a guessing game than an exercise in retail gratification.

Here in Canada, things aren’t much better. E-commerce options are non-existent in many stores and extremely limited elsewhere.

Sensing a seismic shift in the consumer zeitgeist, retailers are trying to play catch-up, Hand said. They’re adopting mobile POS. Pushing offers out to shoppers’ mobile devices. Dabbling in big data analytics. The catch? All of this omni-channel activity “creates tremendous network workloads and sends your data requirements through the roof,” Hand said.

Clearly, patchwork IT can’t handle a game of catch-up this complicated.

That’s why Hand says it’s time for retailers to reach into the till and invest in “technologies that are resilient and agile that they can innovate on.”

In Hand’s estimation, you can postpone omni-channel IT investment indefinitely. But you can’t nickel-and-dime consumers on customer experience forever.
photo credit: Jack Zalium via photopin cc


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