Making 2023 Successful for Retailers: A Conversation Between Leaders Discussing Technology, Tips & Timing

Retail historically has had highs, had lows and along the way, many opportunities and challenges in between. Keeping this in mind, as we look ahead into 2023, we are given the choice to embrace challenge and seek opportunity or approach the year without a constructive, proactive plan.


Reinforcing this are technology leaders who aim to deliver profitable solutions for merchants looking to achieve clarity to their inventory, supply, logistics and consumers – ultimately creating more dynamic, more engaging and more profitable retail experiences. 


I had the chance to speak to various leaders in retail technology about the year ahead, particularly in a time of economic uncertainty. Below, hear from Slalom’s Katie Grisko, OSF Digital’s Arthur McManus, NeuraFlash’s John Heater, and Jenn Horner and Holden Bale of Merkle, a denstu company. 


The current economic landscape leaves many business leaders wondering how they can optimize their technology investments. What benefits do using one trusted platform offer retailers, especially during our current economic scenario? 


The benefits of consolidating to one trusted platform as many. First, by consolidating you’re able to also consolidate your data. this allows for more universal identification. With universal identification, you’re able to more easily and efficiently deliver a personalized experience across channels and at scale. That efficiency is key in allowing businesses to reduce their tech debt, strip out redundant data transformation processes, and allow for a more efficient staffing model to support the single trusted platform. By reducing the costs to run the business (both financial and operational) you open up staff to spend more time working on the business and implementing strategic use cases that have a positive incremental impact,” explains Jenn Horner, Sr. Director of Relationship Marketing Strategy, Merkle, a dentsu company. 

Expanding on this is McManus, who explains that “reduced IT costs are provided under one platform, ultimately offering fewer systems to support and monitor, fewer integrations to build and yet the opportunity for business-side people to run their business processes with less support needed from IT. This also helps to increase productivity, allow for standardized processes across departments and the opportunity to automate workflows resulting in operational efficiency.” 


Efficiency should always be the goal, yet too often it’s not achieved. The key to overcoming this is automation. What is the biggest challenge retailers can tackle by automating their business, and how does automation help save costs by improving business efficiencies? 


“The retail industry has a seriously big challenge on its hands. Retaining workers. Not only is automation going to speed us customer service experiences, but it’s going to create an “omni-connected” workplace for agents. By investing in a single platform solution, your business will be better equipped to deflect cases and provide better self-service for your repetitive inquiries, such as order status. This ultimately reduces average agent handle time, which in turn, saves money. Then, agents are able to spend time on the high value interactions that help progress upsell opportunities,” explains John Heater from NeuraFlash


Using their customer Sonos as an example, John continues to explain the benefits of automated technology. 


“In March of 2020, 90% of Sonos’ business shutdown, almost overnight, as a result of the pandemic, closing brick-and-mortar retailers across the country. Unlike other businesses, an unprecedented influx of ecommerce during quarantining (and little time to prepare) forced Sonos to accelerate their plans. Almost immediately, Sonos had to find a way to bring the power of the in-store experience online, doubling down on digital-first revenue and ecommerce.” 


The question, of course, remains. How did they do it? 


“By investing in automation and one trusted platform with Salesforce,” shares John. By partnering with NeuraFlash, and choosing Salesforce technology, Sonos could quickly provide their customers with 24/7 support to troubleshoot their speakers, or answer set up related questions, while also providing a way for them to escalate to a live Sonos representative for their complex questions. Soon after, Sonos saw a 40% increase in deflection and 5 hours per week, per agent, saved in productivity.” 


Grisko reinforces this and shares another perspective to consider. 


“Automation frees up your human capital to do the work they do best, taking multiple small and or competing considerations into account, giving your customers a human touch in those times of high touch need, like a customer service issue or a high cost high consideration purchase decision.  Automation can handle upsell and cross sell by analyzing data, can cut shipping times and costs by making complex fulfillment decisions, can handle routine customer questions via chat. This allows your people to drive the business forward rather than spending significant time on repeatable tasks or complex data driven decisions.”


Employee retention is too often under rated but since the pandemic, it’s become a top concern for retailers and certainly one that both automation and technology in general can help ease. Another concern for merchants is customer retention because – let’s face it – the retail landscape is competitive. 

The recent National Federation BIG Show helps reveal ways to support this, along with other trends that capitalize on customer experience. What are some of the favorite takeaways you gained from the 2023 BIG Show? 


“A big trend this year is the resurgence of in-store shopping. Slalom has the breadth of technology and strategic thinking and planning experience to help retailers understand the balance of digital and store commerce, provide a quality customer experience in both environments, and increase value and loyalty of customers,” shares Grisko. “This then helps lead to another valued opportunity, which is around loyalty and customer retention. Slalom understands that loyalty is an outcome of engagement, and we work with our clients to understand the levers – channel, frequency, household, etc. We work with our clients to understand the next best action for each customer and utilize technology to deliver that action.”


An equally important trend to consider is actual investment of digital engagement. 


Retailers have always cared about gross margin return on inventory (GMROI) – the amount of profit made on the inventory you buy by category or department. While everyone agrees digital enablement and CX initiatives are critical, it seems like it’s time for GMROD – the amount of profit for every dollar spent on digital. Can you draw a direct line between your digital initiatives and their value-generating outcomes: whether they be around increasing efficiency and speed to market, employee capability, or engagement with consumers? Increasingly, we’re partnering with clients to deploy data-backed strategies to ensure all their initiatives and activities ladder closely to realizing enterprise value, while still leaving room for experimentation and innovation,” shares Holden Bale, Global Head of Experience & Commerce at Merkle, a dentsu company. 


Grisko adds that customer experience should remain a key consideration for retailer success in the year ahead. 


“Customer experience should be top-of-mind, particularly as the cost of acquisition marketing continues to climb in order to compete and win today’s customers. We help our clients by performing site assessments and leveraging benchmarking data from the Omnichannel Retail Index, which is a study of 115 brands and retailers and their adoption of key omnichannel and digital experiences. Our digital strategy consultants prioritize features and functionality to improve or implement in order to stay competitive.” 


But not all trends were positive. 


“Recession? Inflation? Poor? Troubled? Unemployment? Uncertainty?”


These were words that NeuraFlash repeatedly heard while at NRF. 


Although this possible downturn might mean slowed growth and tighter budgets for retailers, it can also be viewed as forced efficiency through innovation. The question becomes, how can you do more with less? The future of work isn’t happening in a cubicle from 9-5. It’s happening in a digital HQ where everyone can collaborate from anywhere. Those businesses that thrive this year are going to be the ones that simplify their tech stack and invest in the employee experience and customer experience, which will reflect every touch point for the customer.” 


With every touch point a consideration for retailers to prioritize, what becomes the biggest pain points/challenges that these same retailers need to prepare for and more importantly,  how can technology solutions help overcome these challenges?


McManus believes that data will lead the opportunity for challenges to become opportunities. 


Although companies understand the power of data, many are still struggling with what to do with all the data points captured from different channels. We help companies with their data strategy and understanding the power of a customer data platform to augment various parts of their business from forecasting and predictive analytics, to personalization to loyalty, and so much more. Plus, don’t overlook inventory. Specifically, excess inventory. Retailers are looking at technology for help with this ongoing issue. Manual and unconnected systems caused retailers to significantly fall behind so we advise companies on building a more streamlined inventory planning strategy.”


Data brings clarity and connectivity to retailers, but only if they both welcome it and leverage it. 


As NeuraFlash says best, “now is the time to prepare, not panic. Cuts are coming – make them where it matters most. Spend wisely on things that will help reduce costs and delight customers on all fronts.” 

In Conclusion 

Finally, as NeuraFlash’s John Heater explains, “in this economic downturn, business efficiency and employee experience are just as important. According to Salesforce, ‘outdated tech is the #1 internal challenge that prevents company growth and creates retention risk for employees.’ Bottom line, with a single trusted platform, retailers have an incredible opportunity to reinvent employee support. With a single pane of glass, they will be able to provide agents with a 360 degree view of customer data to provide more personalized journeys on the channel of their choice, which will lead to a reduction in costs and upsell opportunities.”


Being proactive is the true key to being profitable, so consider this your reminder to get a jumpstart on economic-proofing your retail business despite the challenges that may – or may not – occur in the year ahead. 


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