Five ways technology can support future challenges for the retail industry
Head of AI & Data Insights
Virgin Media O2 Business
10th November 2022
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It continues to be a time of intense change for the retail industry. Geoff Wappett, Head of AI & Data Insights at Virgin Media O2 Business, considers the challenges on the horizon for retailers and the role technology can play in navigating them.
The retail industry never stops evolving. The pandemic has played havoc with the sector, but a continuing set of economic conditions, customer expectations and longer-term demographic trends mean there are ongoing challenges for retailers to navigate. There are also opportunities to seize, which technology can help with.
Weathering retail’s new perfect storm is a new overview that examines the current and upcoming challenges UK retailers face and the critical role that technology plays in overcoming them. Here are five key takeaways from the report which provide you with a good way to start considering the opportunities that lie ahead.
1. Coping with supply chain volatility through better visibility
The extreme volatility of supply chain issues caused by the pandemic and continuing issues, such as the war in Ukraine, have caused huge headaches for retailers, suppliers and customers. Uncertainty over availability, long lead times and spiralling costs are all squeezing profit margins, which means costs are having to be passed on to customers. These difficult circumstances continue to challenge the retail sector.
One thing that can help mitigate some damage is having greater visibility and control over the supply chain, allowing for greater predictability in terms of tracking items. A combination of using sensor-based tracking and a centralised asset tracking and monitoring solution, helps retailers keep on top of where goods are and what is in stock. This can result in more accurate information for customers, efficiencies in staffing at warehouses and more, bringing back more control to an area where many retailers feel they don’t have enough visibility.
2. Reducing supply chain costs through smarter solutions
Technology can also help reduce supply chain costs in several ways; some enabled by having more granular asset tracking. Smarter routing of vehicles reduces fuel consumption and limits maintenance and repair costs. Third-party warehousing costs can be reduced by fulfilling orders from other retail branches. Remote monitoring of storage environments can reduce waste, for example for chilled goods. Costs can also be reduced through automation in the warehouse, by deploying smart robots.
Many of these solutions rely on connectivity through a range of Internet of Things (IoT) or Platform-as-a-Service (PAAS) solutions; or even the low latency guaranteed by a 5G private network.
3. Optimising store formats and layout to enhance customer experiences
Every retailer knows the importance of ensuring their retail space produces maximum value. Store formats and layouts are always under review. In a demanding economic environment with high business rates and increasing inflation, the optimum use of space has never been more important. Customer expectations around their shopping experiences are also changing, putting pressure on retailers to innovate.
Technology again plays a huge role. Automation and personalisation can enable the deployment of digital solutions within a store environment, for example ‘walk-out’ stores that automatically charge customers without having to queue up at the till.
Innovative solutions are also providing deep insights into customer behaviour that enable retailers to transform and refine shop experiences. Smart Spaces solutions combine video analytics and AI to provide anonymised insights into customer and staff movement around store. This covers details such as queueing and dwell times. Spatial Insights provide further real-time demographic data from around the retail environment. O2 Motion provides wider, aggregated customer data around movement, profiles and preferences from over a third of the UK population, for example covering a store catchment area.
4. Optimising staffing arrangements for customer and employee experiences
Staff scheduling is another challenging area. The pandemic has led to huge job losses in the UK retail sector and there are staff shortages. Retailers need to be in a position of strength to make the best decisions around where, when and how to deploy staff.
Understanding customer behaviour, having insights into the movements around store, and knowing where there are peaks and troughs, means staff levels can be adjusted to support the best possible shopping experience. This is not only great for customers, but it also reduces stress on staff, supporting a better employee experience that can influence talent retention.
5. Meet sustainability commitments for a better future
Meeting sustainability commitments is a huge issue for every retail business and one that customers care about; but it’s not easy. Using the right technology solutions makes a tangible difference. A range of innovative smart building solutions produce insights on everything from occupancy rates to air quality and then automate changes to the building environment to support sustainability and reduce costs.
Solutions that can monitor store and warehouse equipment for high emissions also contribute to sustainability. Remote Expert software enables specialists such as engineers to connect to in-store technicians and use Augmented Reality (AR) to help resolve issues, eliminating the need to travel. When combined, all these solutions enable retailers to make real progress towards achieving their sustainability pledges.