Consumers are driving the retail industry to embrace new technology that’s been resisted until it was nearly impossible to ignore. A renewed fervor has been injected into the industry as behemoths like Amazon and Warby Parker are proving the benefits — and cost savings — of deploying new technology solutions to not only satisfy shoppers, but streamline workflow and elevate internal infrastructure and communication.On most retailers’ radar is the implementation of a variety of Internet of Things solutions in order to connect the consumer to the entire life cycle of a product, provide internal visibility into the supply chain and expedite inventory fulfillment among other areas. Here, Lori Mitchell-Keller, general manager of consumer industries at SAP discusses new frontiers for IoT and how retailers can best survive in a saturated market.WWD: There’s been a good amount of attention on the connected store — in your opinion, what’s the next phase of this innovation?Lori Mitchell-Keller: The connected store is the future of retail. As we’ve seen recently, traditional brick-and-mortar stores are evolving to incorporate innovative technology to digitize workflows and enhance the customer experience. To meet consumer expectations — and to ensure success — retailers must embrace a digital core in order to achieve a 360-degree view of their customers and their connected experience across the brand. While we’ve seen the beginning stages of this transition, the next phase will aim to encompass a complete overhaul of business strategies, as every retailer will work to bridge the connectivity gap and place technology at the epicenter of their key business decisions. Before we know it, services like digital dressing rooms, click-to-brick pickup, and on-floor consultations will be customary in retail stores around the world.WWD: In the face of Amazon’s expedited delivery, how can retailers and brands optimize operations with IoT services?L.M.K.: The advent of IoT services has brought about completely different business models, especially in the supply chain. By taking advantage of the power of digital and IoT, which connects machinery, vehicles, cartons, shelves and finished products, and measures activity everywhere, smart supply chains are able to deliver to consumers faster, cheaper and in a more personalized way than before.In addition to Amazon, a great example of this is Instacart, which enables stores like Whole Foods to offer shoppers an e-commerce experience on fresh grocery products without dedicated staff, inventory or store space. Using the sharing economy model, Instacart integrates its own mobile communications and GPS technology with Whole Foods’ existing supply chain applications to provide value for consumers and the business.WWD: Which brands and retailers are successfully implementing IoT from supply chain to store floor? What can be attributed to their success?L.M.K.: Under Armour is pioneering the way brands and retailers are implementing IoT into every facet of their businesses. Whether it’s using advanced insight to cut down time in the supply chain cycle, experimenting with personalized footwear, or collecting and analyzing data in real-time to anticipate consumer demands, Under Armour is at the forefront of retail innovation. As a brand and retailer, Under Armour has found tremendous success by using technology to differentiate itself and provide revolutionary product offerings. Its wearable technology and practice of embedding IoT sensors into its clothing has propelled the retailer above its competition, allowing Under Armour to turn analytics into a deeper long-term relationship punctuated by heightened customer experience and lifestyle value.WWD: Is it possible for consumers to be over-connected given their current demands? How can retailers predict and avoid burnout?L.M.K.: With cloud platforms and IoT enabling every person and asset to be connected and disrupting all the established rules around business engagement, consumers can now freely share preferences, allowing companies to become more consumer-centric than ever. But an increasingly digital environment comes with risks. Privacy is a big concern globally, and consumer data is sensitive and must be protected. Organizations must prioritize balancing insights and personalization services with consumers’ desire for privacy. By implementing strategies to reduce the risk of piracy and unauthorized sharing, retailers can avoid these risks.WWD: How is IoT assisting in the achievement of more accurate inventory levels and understanding the life cycle of a product?L.M.K.: Not only has digitization and IoT technologies allowed retailers to have immediate knowledge of their inventory through centralized systems, but it’s created business value by enabling smart supply chains that are more customer-centric and personalized than ever before. With omnichannel supply chains, retailers can bypass existing channels and directly reach the customer for more personalized relationships. Digital operations powered by IoT capabilities allow focus on available inventory and product personalization to drive the relationship, from the initial sale to optimizing the customer revenue potential over time. This means the retailer must be able to not only deliver the item to a customer, but to monitor usage and provide timely feedback and actions as part of new set of value added services that boost customer loyalty by enriching the complete ownership experience.
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