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The Future of Retail: Key Strategies for Retail Success in a Tech-Enabled World

February 21, 2024

6 Unmistakable retail trends in tech-powered markets and 9 critical steps for employing tech to ensure continued retail success – this is the future of retail

Is your retail at the forefront of e-commerce and consumer experience?

Recent years have shown immense tech-enabled shifts in how consumers shop and behave online, and the industry’s response has been major innovation and adoption of new technologies and methods to retain business and achieve growth.

To the extent that we’ve seen absolute giants of the past completely fold and close their doors because they couldn’t keep up – see the true impact of digital transformation.

With AI, entirely new business models and new technologies advancing apace, it’s never been more important to become aware of the current trends in retail and e-commerce and to develop key strategies to ensure your business employs the latest tech to thrive in the new future of retail.

The Future of Retail: 6 Key current trends in the retail space

1. Advanced Last-Mile Delivery: Redefining Speed and Efficiency

Top of the list has to be the speed of delivery. Same-day and within the hour are the new normal. No one wants to order something that will only arrive in 2 weeks. Longer waiting times for specialist, niche and imported products are still acceptable, but probably only for a short time.

This is clear to see in the march of innovative grocery retail drives like Checkers Sixty60, Pick ‘n Pay’s ASAP!, Woolworth’s Dash etc. in South Africa, and similar initiatives by retailers all around the world. These initiatives are solving basket-based issues related to stock levels, demand, and big-trolley and small-basket shopping needs. 

Yet, it’s not only food retailers that are moving in this direction. Same-day delivery by the likes of Amazon is setting a new standard for e-commerce. In South Africa, where Amazon is expected to enter the local market soon, this is pushing existing online retailers like Takealot to invest heavily in newer, faster processing and delivery methods. Electronic vehicles are already here (with drones and robots likely not far behind), all of which need much more advanced digital adoption from retailers to execute successfully.

See the guide to scaling your software to meet market demands and find more creative ways to pay for your big innovation projects with these unique models for venture funding in retail. Also explore these ways to overcome the crucial delivery challenges in the competitive grocery delivery space.

2. Mastering E-Commerce: A Must for Retailers

Secondly, we can’t deny that many retailers are simply not moving into the digital realm fast enough – and there’s a serious risk of falling behind, no matter how big you are.

Consumers are increasingly shopping via mobile phones, first. This means that if you’re not using the most advanced ways to serve them digitally and instantly, you are leaving customers unattended at the “digital point of sale”.

Optimising e-commerce for mobile, integrating AI into your offering to streamline shopping experiences and integrating your e-commerce capabilities into other platforms like social media networks or other channels are key to thriving in the future of retail.

See why every business needs a digital consultant in today’s world and why you need retail technology integration in-store.

Also learn how one of the world's largest retailers do it in our in-depth case study on the Amazon omnichannel strategy and see the benefits of inventory technology integrated for more competitive retail operations. To fully understand the power of omnichannel, see our retail POS integration case studies, learn how to integrate online and offline channels in retail and explore the most powerful omnichannel technologies for customer experience.

3. Branding and Unique Experiences: The New Frontiers

In the world of fashion retail and personal products in the past, you’d have a single central brand that served as a one-stop retail destination, where you could get products for every member of the family under one roof. Back then, you could get away with offering a few high-end, imported external brands, next to your slightly cheaper in-house white-label brands – and you didn’t have to worry too much about developing unique brands or labels for them individually, you could just slap your main store brand’s label on them.

This doesn’t work in the new online culture, where every family member and persona has their own device and discovers the products they want through their unique consumer journey.

This means you can no longer afford to rely solely on your main brand. Developing unique brands with their respective personalities, experiences, marketing, journeys etc. is key to retaining past markets and attaining new ones.

The trend is only becoming more important as consumers seek more customised and immersive experiences. Not to mention the major focus on sustainability and ethics – modern consumers are increasingly conscious about the environment, social issues and your brand’s stance and contribution to their causes. Different age groups and users care about different things, so your brands need to adapt to thrive.

See why user experience reviews are vital, the must-have retail app features for personalised user journeys, see how data boosts customer loyalty, learn how to do customer journey mapping to anticipate needs, see why you need design thinking in finance and the ultimate design thinking principles for UX.

4. Data Analytics: Understanding the Consumer

In the past, data gathering was painfully slow and often mechanical. Now, however, new technologies allow you to parse immense volumes of consumer behaviour data and make critical decisions in minutes.

Properly utilising data to gain insights into consumer behaviour is crucial for targeted marketing, inventory management, and enhancing the overall shopping experience.

See how to leverage analytics for better engagement. To fully understand the power of omnichannel, see our retail POS integration case studies and guide to integrating online and offline channels. Also see how to use big data to understand customer needs and using cloud computing for scalability and more effective collaborations.

Keep building your insight engine with customer journey analytics.

5. Omnichannel Retailing: A Seamless Shopping Journey

Ensuring consistency and seamlessness across online, mobile, and in-store experiences is key to modern retail success.

It’s vital to ensure that every digital channel and touchpoint is the same as your store’s point of sale – if that’s what has worked for you in the past. Then, you need feedback loops so that you can take teachings for channels that are performing well to employ on other channels, too.

See the benefits of custom software development, the most powerful omnichannel technologies for customer experience, the best retail app features for personalised user journeys and creative ways to pay for your big innovation projects with these unique models for venture funding in retail and how to choose a retail venture funding model.

6. Becoming the Platform, not the Seller

Another important trend is the likes of Amazon moving away from being the provider of the products to allowing smaller entities onto their platform as suppliers.

The thinking is simple: managing stock and customer expectations is one of the hardest parts of the job in e-commerce. If you can build the storefront instead, the trusted “mall” or place where people come to buy things, you can allow others to come in and do the actual selling on your platform. (This means the seller has to manage their own stock, handle customer queries, returns etc., removing that responsibility and cost from you, the main storefront.)

Amazon, for example, already has almost 10 million sellers on their platform, and other established platforms like Takealot in South Africa have launched similar initiatives.

This means:

  • If you already have a big e-commerce platform, shift toward allowing sellers and resellers
  • If you are a growing retail company, there are now big platforms where you can roll out your products and reach a much larger audience, faster.

Learn how to get the venture-building support you need.

8 Critical Steps for Strategically Advancing Your Retail in the Tech Space

Now, how do you go about seeing which trends apply to your retail business, and where you should invest in developing and growing next?

We outline 8 steps for making the best of tech for your retail venture:

1. Assess and Upgrade

Begin with a thorough assessment of your current technology infrastructure. Identify outdated systems, bottlenecks, and areas lacking efficiency. Then benchmark yourself against current trends and industry standards. Are you as evolved as Amazon, for example?

Next, develop a strategic plan for upgrading technology. This might include adopting cloud computing for scalability, implementing advanced point of sale (POS) systems, or upgrading your e-commerce platforms.

Speak to a digital consultant for personalised advice.

2. Customer-Centric Technologies

Look into using personalisation tools or even AI to offer tailored product recommendations, content, and deals based on customer behaviour and preferences. Implementing chatbots and virtual assistants can help you provide 24/7 customer service, addressing queries and enhancing the overall customer experience.

Invest in built-in, automated customer feedback systems to gather real-time insights and improve the shopping experience continuously. Tech companies like us, for example, work with agile methodologies, and are very used to building and using feedback systems.

See how to use big data to understand customer needs and learn to use AI and machine learning for personalisation.

3. Invest in Mobile and Web Development:

Given the ubiquity of smartphones, ensure your e-commerce platform adopts a mobile-first design, providing an optimal shopping experience on mobile devices. Focus on fast loading times and smooth navigation for your websites and apps, as these factors significantly impact customer satisfaction and conversion rates.

Regularly update your digital platforms to incorporate the latest features, security updates, and design trends.

See how much it costs to create an app, how long it takes to build an app, the entire development process, what you should know before you create an app, how to save up to 80% on app costs and how to have your app built 3 times faster.

4. Embrace Automation

Implement new software systems for real-time inventory tracking and management, helping to reduce overstocking or stockouts. Learn how to utilise automation in logistics for efficient order processing, warehousing, and delivery operations, and employ better analytics to forecast trends, demand, and supply chain disruptions.

See how to outsource software development without the risk.

5. Staff Training and Change Management

Contact a digital consultant to help you develop training programs to upskill your staff in new technologies and digital tools. It’s vital to build a culture that embraces change and innovation, encouraging staff to adapt to new technologies and processes.

6. Collaborate with Tech Experts

Partner with technology experts and consultancies like Specno to develop bespoke solutions tailored to your specific needs. Utilise the expertise of these partners not only in developing solutions but also in gaining insights into emerging technologies and best practices.

7. Iterative Implementation

Importantly, tech upgrades don’t have to be one-shot massive projects that take years to plan and roll out. You can do it iteratively.  

Implement new technologies in phases, allowing for testing and adjustment before full-scale deployment. Establish feedback mechanisms to gather insights from users and staff on the effectiveness of new technologies. Then use the feedback for ongoing refinement and optimisation of your tech solutions.

8. Data Security and Compliance

Ensure all technological implementations are compliant with regional data protection laws, such as GDPR in Europe. Implement robust cybersecurity measures to protect customer data and prevent breaches. Conduct regular audits to ensure ongoing compliance with data protection and privacy laws.

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