With global economic forces continuing to impact the brick & mortar retail sector, more and more retail leaders are turning to technology to help stay ahead
The global brick & mortar retail industry has proven to be more resilient in recent years than many expected. From the so-called end of brick & mortar retail due to the rise of e-commerce, to the impact of the global pandemic and shoppers choosing – or being mandated – to stay away from stores, retail leaders have faced more than their fair share of challenges in recent years. But the industry has remained stronger than ever.
Coming off the height of the pandemic, the in-store experience proved to be paramount with shoppers who returned to stores in large numbers, with spending equally as strong. A recent Mastercard SpendingPulse Report found that U.S. consumer in-store spending in February 2022 increased significantly, with retail spending (excluding auto) rising 10% in February compared to the same month last year and 8.0% compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
Yet despite clear signs of strength and resiliency, challenges facing the industry continue to mount. Lingering effects of the pandemic, the economic fallout of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and a multitude of other factors have created an environment of deep supply chain disruption, inflation and economic uncertainty for many industries, including brick & mortar retail. And the impact is significant.
To be efficient, competitive and profitable in today’s world, brick & mortar retailers need new strategies and tools. And retail technology can help.
Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
McKinsey recently wrote about the role of AI in instilling retail flexibility at a critical time. In the face of supply chain disruption, the company argues that retailers need a threefold approach underpinned by artificial intelligence to help their companies adapt to rapidly changing markets and operational challenges. The article touches on the increasingly sophisticated AI technology available to retailers today, and how it is increasingly being adopted – and should be adopted – as a way to build resiliency and efficiencies. The article builds on previous research it conducted - in its 2020 State of AI report, McKinsey took a deep dive into the benefits of AI adoption across a broad range of industries, with some critical findings and insights for those exploring their ML and AI journey.
Among the key findings were:
• Investing in AI: Many organizations are using AI as a tool for generating value and those companies plan to invest even more in AI as the result of the pandemic and its ‘acceleration of all things digital’.
• The potential for an AI divide: The investment some companies are making into AI has the potential to create a divide between those more advanced with AI adoption and those still struggling to capitalize on the technology.
• The broad application of AI: In looking at specific functions, the majority of respondents reported revenue increases for inventory and parts optimization, pricing and promotion, customer-service analytics, and sales and demand forecasting.
• AI as a revenue generator. More than two-thirds of respondents who reported adopting AI for those uses say their revenue increased as a result.
To meet both growing opportunity and demand for AI, our retail management software team at Optimum Retailing (OR) has been increasingly focused on leveraging AI to help clients compete while increasing operational efficiencies and improving store performance. As we wrote about here in our white paper for the National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show 2022, ML and AI have the power to drive economic and business recovery. Among the many new platform features unveiled in the last couple of years, OR’s Automated Photo Compliance (APC) feature has been of particular interest to clients. It’s powered by automated AI, ML and computer vision, and was developed by the OR team with the view that retail planning and planograms are only as effective as implementation. APC gives brick & mortar retailers confidence that their visual merchandising strategies and campaigns are being accurately executed by providing a ‘realogram’ and unparalleled visibility into retail operations at the store level, all by simply having employees hold a phone up to fixtures.
Intelligent retail planning
The current global environment has necessitated a new and urgent need to plan intelligently and with fewer resources. At its core, the OR platform is rooted in building store-specific profiles using advanced tools to collect and analyze multiple sources of retail data, allowing us to gain AI-driven behavioral-based insights into each store. Those local insights allow our clients to localize and personalize products, messages, and campaigns, which in turn drive traffic and conversion rates. Our platform also benefits our clients by helping them optimize their retail operations through Workforce Management and SKU Optimization tools, improved automation, and enhanced store management that strengthen and optimize go-to-market efficiencies. Taken together, our platform helps clients plan more intelligently and drive down costs to strengthen store performance, reinforcing brick & mortar’s strength in the face of uncertainly.
Strengthening customer loyalty and the customer experience in the face of supply chain disruption
Understanding your customer and fostering a positive in-store experience has arguably never been more important given ongoing supply chain challenges, which can lead to frustrated customers. What is within retailers’ control is understanding customers on a new level and offering a personalized experience. In addition to driving loyalty at a critical time, doing so will benefit retailers in a few additional ways:
• The retail industry is rapidly evolving, and consumer preferences and habits are changing just as fast. Brands that fail to be in touch with that evolution risk losing customers that expect retailers to understand them before they walk into a store.
• Once in-store, retailers and can – and must – capture customers’ attention by enhancing the in-store experience, and personalization and localizing is a key part of successfully doing so.
• Word of mouth is powerful, and if a customer is loyal to your brand, they will recommend a retailer or specific store to friends and family, driving increased traffic.
By planning intelligently and embracing today’s retail technology, brick & mortar retailers can stay competitive by mitigating risks, reducing costs, finding operational efficiencies, and improving store performance, all while engaging customers in ways that keep them coming back. OR is an industry leader in localizing brick & mortar retail planning and execution, maximizing the benefits of AI, and leveraging the vast amount of retail data that exists in a way that makes it easy for clients to prioritize consumer insights. We work with some of the world’s top retail brands on optimizing their retail – get in touch today to find out how we can help drive your brand forward and help your team successfully navigate through the evolving challenges and uncertainty currently facing the brick & mortar retail industry.