Why Retail Tech Has a “Cool” Problem and How to Crack It

Retail’s digital strategies are in a state of flux: Many companies are in an ever-escalating war to find the coolest new tech to sell their items, whether in-store or online. Here are just two recent examples: The clothing brand Finery’s In the Mood For app tells shoppers to choose a series of “visual cues” in order to find the clothing that fits their mood, and Uniqlo’s UMood is an in-store installation that gets vistors to don a brain-activity-tracking EEG headset to do the same.

Are retail’s digital pyrotechnics getting out of hand? Should retail focus less on headsets straight out of a mad scientist’s lab and more on catering to customers’ needs seamlessly across all channels and social streams?

If you’re an avid reader of TechCo, you likely have a few thoughts on the matter. Enter Greg Ng, VP of Digital Engagement at PointSource, here to offer his advice on how to gain the most value while upgrading your retail tech approach.

What are some differentiating factors between retail tech that provides value to a customer vs. the flashy, “cool” tech?

“Oftentimes, decision makers jump on ‘cool’ flashy tech that is popular at the moment without considering the full picture and the long term value that the technology will provide. When determining the best digital strategy to implement, decision makers need to take into consideration all the variables of the purchase including budget, business value, and necessary human resources in order to achieve the true ROI. Most importantly, if retailers haven’t mapped out the customer journey, they shouldn’t even be having the discussion about tech.

Decision makers should start by asking how they want their customer to behave and interact with the brand and then find the right tech to deliver that experience in a pragmatic way that meets their customer’s unique needs, keeping in mind that what works for one audience might not be the best fit for another. The technology that provides practical value to the retailer is technology that creates a solid foundation for the organization to continue to grow and scale along with customer demands. The retailer should have an idea of what their organization’s vision is and adopt tech that will help them achieve that vision.”

How can a retailer know when to adapt the right tech? What qualities should they look for?

“An outside-in approach that carefully evaluates the customer’s needs through qualitative research provides retailers with the information they need to invest in the right solutions. For example, if customers are continuously struggling with accessing the same product information across different devices, then the retailer knows they need to invest in a system that will improve the omnichannel experience before investing in Zero UI technology.

Retailers should be looking for technology that is agile and flexible, so that they can continue to scale for growth as consumer needs evolve. Brands should make sure that internal technologies are up to date so that they are able to establish a holistic view of their customer with data that isn’t stuck in silos, creating more efficient and personalized experiences.”

What strategy and mentality should businesses emphasize in order to succeed in retail? And how could retail tech help channel those strategies?

“If retailers are investing in an omnichannel commerce, they need to start by eliminating outdated technology, processes and mindsets.

It’s important to create internal alignment and establish a collaborative company culture in order to provide more valuable user experiences. Breaking down operational silos, improving internal relationships and establishing complete buy-in provides a better customer experience as teams are able to be more collaborative and innovative.

For example, oftentimes you’ll go to the store and buy something and a week later you’ll get an email from the brand advertising the thing you just bought. This all too common occurrence is the result of a siloed environment in which IT and marketing teams don’t work together. If the two teams are aligned internally, this interaction can be avoided because they would share customer information, allowing them to collaborate to design a more effective user experience.”

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Written by:
Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He was a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and his art history book on 1970s sci-fi, 'Worlds Beyond Time,' is out from Abrams Books in July 2023. In the meantime, he's hunting down the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.
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