Digitalisation has affected every business you can think of, with retail arguably among the most affected.

With consumers today more tech-savvy and demanding than ever before, retailers have had to up their game to ensure they get shoppers into the store, engage their attention, encourage them to shop, and then make their check-out experience as quick, seamless and pain-free as possible.

It is a big ask, but fortunately the technology industry is able to offer the tools they need to make this scenario a reality.  

Technology has been a major disruptor in the retail industry over the past few years, with many retailers forced to adapt to the latest tech trends or face the risk of being abandoned for brands and stores that offer more efficient, convenient and pleasant buying experiences.

This is the word from Hugh Davies, business development manager at Epson South Africa, who points out that retailers are having to up their game to keep customers happy.

“From the first point of contact with a brand to the purchasing phases and beyond, customer experiences are engineered to the last detail, not just to encourage customers to hand over their hard-earned rands, but to keep them engaged as part of a brand ‘community’,” he says.

The most obvious pain point that customers experience is the payment process, and Davies believes this can be eased with mobile payments, among other interventions.

“Mobile payment solutions are still a popular in-store mechanism offered by most retailers,” he says. “However, it’s important to note that retailers aren’t opting for mobile payments exclusively, but instead employ it as one of a variety of payment options offered to customers for the sake of convenience.”

On-the-floor point-of-sale solutions are also a vital component when it comes to streamlining the in-store experience, Davies adds. “Customers who still enjoy the experience of visiting a brick and mortar store don’t want to waste time in a long, slow queue, and retailers understand that this could easily lead those customers to switch to online shopping in future.

“For this reason, brick-and-mortar retail businesses, in particular, are beefing up their point-of-sale systems to offer faster and more efficient payment processing.”

Cryptocurencies could soon be demanded as a payment option, according to Davies. “In terms of online store payments, an interesting trend that has taken shape over the past year or two, and one that will continue to grow this year, is the introduction of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as an accepted form of payment.

“Some of the South Africa’s biggest retailers allow consumers to pay for goods online using digital currency, including merchants like Bidorbuy, Superbalist, Takealot and Zasttra.com.

“Instead of shying away from cryptocurrency, more retailers are embracing it as a way to offer customers an added convenient method of payment.”

Reports over the last months about major security and privacy breaches have made security a top-of-mind issue for consumers, Davies says.

“Consumers are becoming particularly wary of sharing their credit card information and other personal details online – understandably, considering the recent data leak that affected millions of South Africans.

“On an international scale, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is just one of the recent implementations put in place to protect the personal data of online users by imposing stricter regulation on businesses operating within the digital environment.

“While it doesn’t have a direct impact on retailers in South Africa, it does indicate the direction that the local retail landscape is headed towards.”

Online retailers are already going to greater lengths to ensure the security of customers’ personal data, Davies adds. “This includes upgrading security at check-out through the introduction of more sophisticated anti-phishing software and keeping a closer eye on international IT security best practice.

“Where businesses once focused their efforts primarily on the price and quality of their product and service offerings, the importance of customer experience is the driving force behind much of the evolution we’ve seen in the retail industry over the past few years.

“This has had a considerable impact on point-of-sale systems and processes in particular, effectively changing the way many traditional retailers do business,” Davies says.

Neville Levinthal, head of business development at Braintree, believes that retailers need to look beyond their physical stores and start developing an omni-channel shopping experience.

“Many shoppers are choosing to start their shopping experience online, prior to going to the store,” he points out.

“Online has become a virtual visit and/or a direct purchase.  This reduces consumer time in-store because shoppers have evaluated, compared and generally made their product decision beforehand.”

He says that, as shoppers become increasingly accustomed to on-demand services, retailers will need to find innovative ways to process customer sales through till points in-store, and understand that the whole experience is core, and no longer just the product itself.

“The shopper experience has to be a focussed, personal experience, which will drive technology adoption that will need to include predictive analytics that will enable retailers to know, with great detail and certainty, what customers want and need, and more importantly, when,” Levinthal says. “An omni-channel management platform will enable retailers to control the consumer journey across multiple touchpoints and on-demand preferences of shoppers.”

Aside from shifts in consumer/ shopper behaviour, retailers need better visibility across lines-of-business from inventory management to real-time total transaction visibility, he adds.

“ By digitally transforming, retailers are able to deliver among other things, intelligent forecasting that prevents products from being out-of-stock or having inconsistent stock fulfilment; reporting and analysis that tracks key performances indicators and enables informed decisions to be made, based on realtime business intelligence and enhanced in-store experiences that can include self-help kiosks; mobile point-of-sale terminals and Internet-of-things beacon triggered push notifications.

“We believe that retailers need the kind of agility that meets the needs of a more digitally native generation of shoppers.”

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