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Our physical and digital words are merging like never before, fuelling the growth of the metaverse*, and of rapidly growing technologies such as augmented reality.** We engage with a whole range of services via our mobile devices – from shopping to entertainment to banking. We fully expect the digital to merge with physical. In the world of retail, this convergence is no less important, and retailers are increasingly understanding that connected retail is not just a ‘nice to have’, but the essential underlying approach to customer engagement and business success in 2023 and beyond.

Here we explore what connected retail looks like in 2023, why it’s important for retailers, and some of the ways in which they can harness retail technology to successfully deliver an outstanding, seamless, connected customer experience.

What is connected retail?

Connected retail means taking the online and in-store shopping experiences and seamlessly merging them to create a single, flexible customer journey that weaves between online and offline. The shape of each individual journey is highly personalised, driven entirely by the way that each shopper wants to engage. It encompasses the entire retail experience, from the very first moment that the shopper engages with the brand, through selecting, paying for and receiving their goods.  Some refer to connected commerce as ‘Omnichannel 2.0’++ in the sense that it is no longer enough to have multiple, integrated channels, it’s about ensuring that the integration is completely seamless and personalised.

Connected retail in practice encompasses customer engagements that include: click and collect/BOPIS; rapid delivery; personalised loyalty program and marketing; real-time inventory visibility; digital interaction in store; immersive experiences and ‘retail theatre’; in-store staff equipped with tools to better engage with customers; social sharing; gamification and livestream shopping.

How does connected commerce benefit the retailer?

First and foremost, connected commerce benefits the retailer because they are offering exactly what the customer demands. In the highly competitive world that is retail in 2023, trying to dictate to consumers how they must shop is not the path to success. The shopper rules the roost, and retailers must, if they are to survive and thrive, understand, listen to and act on consumer demands. The reality is that connected commerce is here, driven by customers, and that one thing any retailer can be sure of is that if they are not offering it, their competitors are.

Giving customers what they want increases loyalty and retention, and that means increased sales. A boost of just 5%+ in loyalty can translate to as much as 95% growth in profits. Connected retail helps to strengthen brand presence and create a bond between brand and consumer that results in very real financial benefits for retailers.

How can retailers achieve connected retail?

The underlying enabler for connected retail is technology. Retailers need a connected retail platform, which brings together a range of functions, and enables data to be shared seamlessly between them to power the connected retail customer journey. The essential elements of any connected retail platform include:

  • Online/offline integration – an ecommerce platform that enables digital and physical interactions, such as click and collect/BOPIS, curbside collection and Buy Online Return In Store (BORIS).

  • Retail analytics – in order to provide the best connected experience, retailers have to be able to understand their current business, spot trends and make forecasts. Being able to capture and analyse key retail data is an essential step to connected retail.

  • Personalised loyalty program – a loyalty program that allows the retailer to send tailored messages, offers and promotions to individual shoppers, based on their history and preferences. Personalised loyalty programs make customers feel known and understood, and that they are in control of their shopping journey.

  • Inventory visibility – shoppers want to be able to see what goods are available, online, in their local store or in another store. With an inventory management system that provides a single view of inventory across all locations, retailers can provide information to shoppers that minimises abandoned carts and lost sales.

  • Mobile POS – connected retail means greater in-store engagement, between shoppers and associates. Staff who are equipped with mobile POS can provide real-time information in the aisle, helping shoppers to make their buying decision, and can check them out there and then, avoiding queues and enhancing their experience.

How does inventory management play a part in connected retail?

Not being able to get the goods they want really dampens a shopper’s retail experience. Having a real-time view of what stock is where, means the store can tell the customer that their chosen item is available in a nearby store, or can be delivered the next day from the warehouse. This connects the shopper with the retailer’s back end information for an enhanced experience and a saved sale.

Why is an integrated platform so important?

The key to connected retail is being able to pass information between the different systems in a retail operation – for example, between the point of sale and the loyalty program, or between the inventory management system and the mobile POS. When these are all part of an integrated platform, where the elements are designed to talk to each other and pass information, the whole process becomes seamless and provides the ultimate in connectedness.

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