Effects of the pandemic, alongside dynamic changes to the macroeconomy, have catapulted the great retail reset by migrating shopping online. Coupled with sky-high expectations of consumers and Asia-Pacific’s (APAC) e-commerce penetration rate projected to grow 35% by 2026, there is immense pressure on retailers to continuously reinvent themselves to stay ahead of the curve.
While retailers that have undergone digital transformation already offer shoppers an omnichannel experience, consumers have since raised their expectations, making it challenging for businesses to keep up with their digital demands. In fact, only one in five Singaporean consumers reported satisfaction with the digital experiences provided by businesses, causing Singapore to score the lowest across the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region in meeting customer expectations.
Technology is essential to meeting shopper expectations, making IT teams primarily responsible for staying at the forefront of digital innovation and agility. As consumers now demand flexibility in how they shop, retailers must also prioritise flexibility in their networks, not only to meet buyers’ demands but also to create room for innovation that can drive greater business efficiency and enhance retail operations.
With more than half of APAC consumers feeling as though customer service is an afterthought for businesses, how can brands offer more when it comes to engaging their customers, and what are the implications of shifting consumer demands on a retailer’s IT teams and network?
Here are five predictions that retailers must consider for future-proofing:
- Retailers will bring immersive digital experiences to in-store shoppers
We’ve progressed from the idea that physical retail spaces exist solely for customers to interact with products.
With customer agility as one of the primary drivers of APAC’s investment in AR/VR technology, this year will see a rise in smart technologies that will allow brands to reveal new dimensions of their customer offerings. For example, VR could be a vehicle for showcasing the sustainable construction of an item in store or for housing an extended showroom of products that the physical space is unable to accommodate.
How will this impact your network? Immersive technology places a huge strain on most networks, with the danger being that slow applications will alienate rather than engage the user. This burden won’t be constant though, meaning an intelligent network that is scalable is needed to seamlessly and instantly allocate relevant computing resources.
- Delivery options will become more disparate and diversified
On-demand, time-shifted, location-flexible – the more options the shopper has, the happier they are that their personal needs are being met. In the era of laser-focused personalisation, freedom of choice is key.
Therefore, retailers will respond with increasingly hybrid approaches when it comes to order fulfilment. Alongside traditional delivery solutions, dark stores for online-order fulfilment, micro-fulfilment centres, grab-and-go ‘pop-ups’ for in-store collection, on-demand couriers, mobile stores, and enhanced geolocation services will also see increased uptake. With a hybrid fulfilment model, retailers must ensure various nodes and systems of the fulfilment process are well-connected and secure enough to deliver a seamless experience to customers.
Consequently, there is a need to expand and secure network infrastructure, right to the edge, where people, devices, and Internet of Things (IoT) connect to the network. This provides retailers secure and near real-time access to data as opposed to traditional set-ups where data is funnelled through a central data centre.
- In-store locations will become smarter to drive delight and efficiency
As the popularity of e-commerce continues to rise, retailers are facing increasing competition, forcing them to redefine physical stores to enhance customer satisfaction, personalisation, and operational efficiency. In response to growing demand for self-serve technology, 68% of APAC shoppers (according to a Zebra study) want minimal shopping time. To meet this need, intelligent technology such as cashierless checkouts will be leveraged in stores in 2023.
But what does this mean for IT teams? As the adoption of IoT devices and technology across retail locations grows, retailers face increasing cybersecurity risks and greater network complexity. This, in turn, requires constant troubleshooting and updates, which diverts IT resources from looking at how emerging technology can be innovatively applied to scale the business.
This is where an intuitive network solution and outsourced network management and maintenance can provide support to IT teams. By leveraging these resources, retailers can better utilise their IT resources towards driving frictionless customer interactions, such as ensuring more reliable connections for point-of-sale equipment.
- Intelligent inventory insights will help clinch customer loyalty
Predictive technologies will be high on the priority list as retailers look to better understand inventory needs to meet customer demand in real time. This will lead to a shift towards made-to-order retailing becoming mainstream, resulting in reduced waste and excess inventory.
However, for these technologies to be effective in delivering immediate data and trend predictions, reliable connectivity and real-time data insights are necessary. Without a more intelligent networking structure, inventory insights will be more vague and customer demands may go unanswered.
- Showrooming will turn to streaming
The next wave of showrooming is all about uninterrupted livestreaming, providing shoppers with a better connection to local brands while allowing retailers to make the most of their brick-and-mortar spaces. With the explosion of e-commerce and the immense opportunities that livestreaming provides in Southeast Asia, the region is a hotbed of digital opportunities for retailers to leverage.
To make uninterrupted livestreaming work, retailers must consider the bandwidth and network capacity needed, ensuring a seamless customer experience. For this to happen, retailers need a network that can flex to meet the demands of livestreaming.
The way forward for retailers
Today’s technology can only deliver on its promised benefits if it is supported by the right infrastructure.
Retailers can opt for a consumption-based, cloud-like subscription model such as network as a service to outsource several networking needs. This allows them to free up budgets for digital innovation that drives customer engagement and loyalty. By doing so, the burden is lifted from the IT team, and external experts handle software upgrades, monitoring, and troubleshooting. This approach allows retailers to focus on reaching new buyers and deepening relationships with existing customers.
In a competitive landscape, retailers must take the first step towards a flexible and adaptable network to secure their place.