Machinery and technology on display at the ITMA show.

In a sea of ever-burgeoning technology labeled as the newest solution for all of retail industry’s woes, chief information officers are tasked with navigating an oversaturated market to select the best services for their company. Sadly, there isn’t a one-size-fix-all for the growing obstacles for brands and retailers. Forrester’s recent report, The 2017 Top Technologies for Digital Predators aims to remedy this, sharing key insights into best practices and top technology worth investments.

Let Customers Do The Heavy Lifting: The report suggests that digital predators or chief information officers take a step back before selecting another strategy to tack onto the current set of solutions.

As the retail industry has shifted to be customer-led, not just customer-aware, the emphasis has moved toward prioritizing customer happiness above all else. “Being customer-led means investing in systems
 of engagement. Being insights-driven means powering experiences with systems of insight using measurable reality, not just intuition. Being fast means simplifying systems of operations and focusing technology resources using agile delivery methods,” the report said. By deploying tactics to capture and analyze shopper satisfaction, CIOs are armed with real-time, tactical pointers of strategies and solutions that will resonate with consumers.

Engage, Engage, Engage: If shoppers aren’t engaged, it’s difficult to analyze their feedback. “[Successful CIOs] invest heavily to improve customer touch points — both the technologies customers touch directly and those supporting frontline employees directly engaged with customers,” said the report. “Wherever possible, they use emerging technology to simplify touch points and even remove those deemed unnecessary. The payoff: Happier customers lead to more sustained growth.”

Customer engagement poses huge opportunity to not only understand the current mind-set of the shopper, but also analyze and predict future needs of the consumer. This unto itself has become another customer expectation. “Customers increasingly expect your business to recommend their next-best action based on past interactions and what they are currently doing. The only way to scale this level of intelligent personalization is through trusted machines capable of ingesting massive volumes of relevant data and naturally interacting with each customer,” the report said.

Personalize, but Tread Lightly When Selling Personal Data: A little personalization goes a long way for customers. A lot of personalization goes even further. “Better, more personalized experiences keep customers loyal to your products 
and services, reducing customer attrition and increasing overall satisfaction. Lifetime value per customer increases,” the report said.

Though shoppers expect companies to save their personal information and preferences, they simultaneously require retailers to maintain their privacy. “Consumers are aware that their data is shared or sold for financial gain and are demanding that firms respect their privacy and provide value for the exchange of their data. The ability to protect customers’ data and earn their trust will become a critical differentiator as fallout from data privacy issues snowballs,” said the report. Implementing personal identity and data management solutions to resolve concerns about data breaches ease these concerns.

Then Personalize at Scale: Personalization is great for consumers and overwhelming for those charged with implementing the necessary systems. In order to circumvent operational hang-ups, marketers and consumer experience managers will benefit from real-time interaction management services. “Early adopters have an operational edge, reducing their overall cost to serve customers while simultaneously improving the quality of each interaction. Expect to see improved RTIM-enabled experiences yield higher market share, increased customer loyalty and revenue growth,” the report said.

New Frontiers: As cloud-based retail solutions become common practice, CIOs are advised in the report to begin considering augmented and virtual reality. The technology can enhance a shopper’s online journey, enabling her to virtually try on a product before purchasing, digitally tour retail locations and engage with brands in new venues and platforms.

The report said, “While AR technology will not be commercially scalable for some time, companies like Lowe’s that are already experimenting with AR use by customers are gathering valuable insights into how it can improve the customer’s experience. AR will change both the consumer’s and the industrial employee’s experience, so early pilots will position your firm to reap the rewards in the future.”

Internet of Things of the Future: In order to accelerate delivery services, read real-time inventory levels, and maximize supply chain efficiencies, human reporting needs to decrease at a rapid rate.

“Any company with physical assets needs to build business capabilities for IoT and predictive analytics to maximize asset utilization in the process of creating value for customers. This field is advancing exponentially. The traditional ROI payback for high-value assets is months. And in consumer products, sensors allow the experience to be uniquely tuned to the individual customer, increasing the ability to drive loyalty and revenue,” said the report. This opens new opportunity to test-run IoT technology for accurate insights for improved ROI and of course, customer satisfaction.

Cognitive Technology for Customer Value: The report names artificial intelligence as “next big barrier to entry for large companies able to exploit the technology.” This is a technology worth breaking in early. “This is a technology every business needs to build capabilities for. Future revenue will depend upon mastering AI and cognitive technologies. Early mover advantages could be massively disruptive across all industries,” the report said.

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