‘Shopping’ the one word women go ga ga over is slowly losing its sheen. Today the whole experience of shopping is not all that enjoyable. From queuing in traffic to actually getting to the store to find a parking space and ultimately not finding the object of desire that you have wanted to possess, is quite disappointing. Thus in today’s competitive market retailers have realised that with the aid of modern technology they can enhance the experience received by customers more than ever before.
Technology enormously drives today’s retail industry. It has transformed the sector into a high performance one, achieving its targets by catering to consumers. Retail stores have tried to revamp themselves with the help of technology especially in the U.S. and Europe in various ways. Retailers have adapted technology as a vital element of commerce.
Technology has enabled retailers for greater transparency. Retailers have integrated technology with manufacturers and consumers via customer and sales data. It is easier for them now to track their supplies from their headquarters. Technology also helps to break the national and international barriers and connect with different customers and their demands.
Philip Clarke Chief Executive of Tesco PLC said there has been a “tectonic shift” in the retail industry and has forced companies to adapt themselves to new age technologies.
“We are in the first downturn of the digital age,” he said at the World Retail Congress in London on September 9, 2012. “Digital technology gives us the opportunity for a warmer, more meaningful conversation with our customers, local communities, our colleagues and the suppliers we work with.”
Retail giants like Wal-Mart have made a huge effort on social networking websites like Facebook that is targeted at making its stores prominent at a local level. It debuted Black Friday sales on the social networking websites.
“Reaching an optimal state of technology utilization is a high bar for almost any business to reach,” said Tim Herbert, Vice President, Research, CompTIA, a non-profit association for the IT industry. “But the vast majority of retailers clearly want to improve their technology utilization. For some this will involve adoption of new technologies; for others, improving the use of what they have in place.”
“Location-based technologies can give retailers the tools to incentivize in-store purchases, such as special discounts for in-store customers who check-in via an app,” he explained in a press release.
“Reliable wireless connectivity, robust security, quality end-points, data back-up and other IT basics cannot be overlooked by retailers anxious to add new capabilities,” he said.
An estimated two-thirds of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) comes from retail consumption. To see the U.S. economy’s well-being, retail industry is a good indicator. According to the latest annual report from the U.S. Commerce Department, total retail sales in 2011 were $4.7 trillion, which represents an 8% increase over 2010 total retail sales (including food service and automotive).
One of the well known voices of U.S. business, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks said, “For all the promise of digital media to bring people together, I still believe that the most sincere, lasting powers of human connection come from looking directly into someone else’s eyes, with no screen in between.”
But he also added “Information can’t be from the company to the consumer; it has to be a level playing field where consumers feel that they are opting in and that there is a sharing of information. Cracking the code involves understanding how to create an opportunity for people to feel a sense of pride, a sense of discovery that they want to share, with someone they care about.”
Since 2011, attention of the retailers has shifted to mobile, with consumers buying out more smartphones and tablets and their desire to interact with retail consumers. This has now moved to be the indispensable device for most customers in U.S and in European countries. Retails began to address all things via mobile.
Consumers have mobile apps on their smartphones and these offer loyalty points and coupon offer for “checking in” to a particular retail outlet. Mobile has become a favorite place or platform to shop for consumers in the U.S. Retailers are seeing a 4 percent increase in total e-commerce sales solely from smartphones and tablets, said Shop.org and Forrester Research.
Mobile payments have become the in-thing among both consumers and retailers. Mobile payment is referred to mobile money, mobile money transfer, and mobile wallet, generally refer to payment services operated under financial regulation and performed from or via a mobile device according to Wikipedia. It is basically an alternative payment method apart from cash, check or credit cards. Consumers can pay a wide range of services and goods using their mobiles – music, bus fare, train fare, tickets, books etc. The model for payment can be NFC (Near Field Communication), SMS based, Direct Mobile Billing and Mobile web payments (WAP). Globally, mobile payments might reach an excess of $600 billion by 2013 forecasted Juniper Research.
Technology giants like Apple too have helped retail integrate better with newer technology. Apple came out with EasyPay payment system, an app that turns iPhone into an iWallet. The app uses the user’s credit card information from their iTunes account.
Financial institutions and technology companies are investing millions of dollars in the development of mobile payment service. It is also dubbed digital or mobile wallets.
All large retailers in U.S. like Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, 7-Eleven and Sunoco have moved towards developing a mobile payment network service. Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), a joint company of more than a dozen retailers will compete with Google’s Wallet. This will be supported by mobile operators AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.
Consumers now a faster and less cumbersome payment and retailers believe that building electronic systems that will help in mobile payment transaction will deepen customer loyalty.
In August Starbucks announced it will be investing $25 million in a start-up company called Square Inc. using its technology for mobile payments in Starbucks outlets in U.S.
“Can you imagine trying to pay with a phone at a (restaurant)? They need to be thinking about more than one (payment option),” said Denee Carrington, an analyst at Forrester.
Online companies like PayPal and Amazon too have mobile payment options.
A study done by Javelin Strategy & Research recently said that mobile payment have broken the $20 million mark in 2012 and is expected to increase to $1 trillion by 2017.
“Mobile will define the movement to unify all channels of retail. It is poised to become a tipping point in the quest for a true omni-channel business – and will likely be a predictor of tomorrow’s winners,” said NRF Stores.
In conclusion, the transformation of the retail industry from a single shop to a chain of stores with a worldwide customer base is mainly due to globalization and advanced information technology. And technology has helped them maintain control and be connected to the various outlets. Technology has helped customers be informed about the prices and to get their desired products and services in an easier and better way.