Retail Transformation: Designing for Chaos

By: Tim Tang

The simultaneous mix of labor shortage, disrupted supply chain, and Omicron has created a perfect storm, where demand for retail services far exceeds the human capacity to serve. In these situations, it is natural and necessary to ask how technology may magnify a retailer’s ability to provide their brand experience.

Inadequate Staffing

Retail has always been about people serving people. In the current market, where a multitude of industries are aggressively competing for the same limited pool of talent, retailers must prepare for routine conditions of inadequate staffing, inadequate in terms of people, inadequate in terms of talent. Under these conditions, the objective is to maximize the customer experience with available resources. 

Leverage technology to simplify and automate store operations. Leverage RPA solutions to eliminate the paperwork in the stores, so employees may focus on customers. Anticipate scenarios where a store may have to operate for a season (if not permanently) without a store manager and needs to succeed with a pool of understaffed, entry-level employees.

Consider technologies to enable store managers to expand their leadership influence to span multiple locations. Digital checklists are an easy way to not only simplify the complexity of running a store but also gamifying the experience for the employees. Private social media solutions enable front-line employees to support each other through informal sharing of best practices and improve morale by building a sense of community.

Disrupted Supply Chain

“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are gonna get.” Forrust Gump

In a new norm, where retailers are continually surprised by what does and do not arrive with each shipment, a new muscle of retail agility is required. To maximize the business opportunity with the remaining limited products, retailers need to fully leverage the existing store operational data that is routinely collected and yet left unused.  When resources are scarce and unreliable, retailers need to know where the available inventory may be most effectively applied to maximize the brand’s business opportunity.

Start with effective consolidation and visualization of existing data sources. (Data silos are a great barrier to effective analytics.) As necessary, introduce additional 3rd party data sources. Then, apply AI/ML solutions to optimize the promotion and positioning of products throughout the store network. While many retailers may struggle with legacy tech stacks, the good news is that modern shared services architectures are quite adept at integration. The objective is real-time, actionable insights.

Unified Commerce, Omnichannel, Phygital, etc.

For decades, retailers have had the opportunity and motivation to develop an integrated physical and digital brand experience.  Where there has been much excitement about the explosive growth of digital, physical stores have remained the mainstay of the consumer's retail experience.  A key challenge to a fully integrated physical and digital customer experience is the lack of back-end integration.

For many retailers, it is as if the retailer were maintaining two separate independent businesses. Instead, consider implementing an API-enabled shared services architecture, which would support a transparent transition of the customer experience between the various channels of customer engagement.

In the current market, with the store experience severely handicapped by labor and supply chain challenges, now is the time to navigate the technology and cultural challenges of truly integrated brand experience. Retailers almost have no choice.

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