20CENT MEETS Carole Gilkes from K3 Business Technologies
While COVID-19 may have had a major impact on retail, one thing remains truer than ever – the customer is king. But how does one keep on top of evolving customer demands? This time for 20/CENT MEETS, I exchanged views with Carole Gilkes, Chief Customer Officer at K3 Business Technologies. She confirms that the customer is still king and players of the industry will keep up by keeping a close eye on evolving technology.
Do you see any new trends in retail as a result of the COVID-pandemic?
“Let’s get one thing straight, not everything has been changed by COVID. Many shops, for example, are open under certain conditions. And something that still applies, even under those limited opening conditions, is that a great customer experience is key. In fact, it is still the biggest factor in deciding whether retailers live, die or thrive in a fiercely competitive landscape. However, while its importance remains, what customers expect is constantly changing. It is therefore vital that businesses set themselves up with the ability to adapt and evolve at pace to ensure they meet and exceed the expectations of the ever more fickle shopper.
Looking at the key trends now, there are two that stand out. Before COVID there was a focus on personalized shopping experiences. Brands like Nespresso leveraged the data they collected via in-store and in-app to offer experiences and products that were tailored to specific customers. This trend remains, but it has also been joined by the need to provide safe retail experiences. To meet and exceed these two customer demands, retailers need to offer a quick, hassle-free and streamlined experience.”
Are some retailers already responding to these trends?
“We are already seeing this shift with the major retailers, such as Amazon and the news of its latest set of Go Stores arriving in Europe. The UK is the first country to benefit. In the Netherlands, Albert Heijn has also launched experiments in this area. A pilot project with a digital shop at the head office in Zaandam was followed by another in Schiphol. In this 'AH to Go' there is no scanning or cash register. The door opens after scanning a (contactless) payment card, then devices identify the products that customers pick up and leave with. Payment is automatic.
Combining their vast pool of customer data, technology and identification of the latest behavior trends, these retailers have developed a customer experience that perfectly fits the needs of today’s consumers. These new stores offer a completely tailored experience that caters to the consumers desire to grab what they want in-store and go, without the need to interact with a salesperson Amazon specifically can use its data to personalize the experience by charging your account simply by monitoring you in-store. After making a purchase, Amazon can then send you promotions based on the very products you bought and continue the customer journey. By locating these stores at transport hubs, Amazon has also identified the right moment when customers want these experiences. Running to catch a train, plane or bus customers benefit from the quickest and most efficient shopping experience possible.”
Could you be perhaps elaborate on whether these shopping experiences are purely a result of the pandemic?
“Amazon and Albert Heijn are not the only ones to identify the power of combining physical stores and digital technology to offer the type of customer experience today’s consumers demand. Aldi too has stepped up its game in this area via the introduction of cashier-less stores. Trials of these types of stores were well underway before the pandemic. Whereas pre-COVID there was a reticence to go completely cashier-less, the pandemic has fundamentally accelerated the move towards fully digital, consumer led shopping experiences. Businesses must now equally accelerate their technology offering and develop against the new customer expectation to remain relevant and keep customers loyal.”
Which retailers will benefit the most from new developments like these and how can they do so?
“The combination of digital and physical retail space is particularly important for smaller retailers who can make changes far quicker than the retail heavyweights. To do so they need the right technology powering their retail experiences if they are to thrive in the new normal we are now in. While some retailers may feel that an Amazon Go type experience is beyond their capabilities, it does not mean that they cannot offer a more personalized customer experience. Now is the opportune moment to turn to providers for cross-channel digital solutions that can help them understand what the customer journey looks like. Once achieved, these offerings can then be scaled as the business grows and help provide solutions that deliver the tailored experience customers are looking for. Regardless of channel.
To do this, businesses need the right technology that can power processes from the point of production to the point of sale and the customer’s hands. Having a fully integrated and connected system enables retailers to make data-driven decisions that positively impact the customer experience by identifying the products and sales channels that are preferred. Also, by having flexible systems in place, retailers can adapt to the changing demands from their customers. Retailers can launch their own app or connect with online stores to offer more sales channels. Failure to have the systems in place that offer full integration and flexibility will mean that businesses like Amazon continue to gain market share as they offer the experiences that customers increasingly want. “
What advice would you give retailers if they could only focus on one thing?
“To succeed in today’s retail environment, businesses need to remain focused on the customer experience. This means being able to deliver a more personalized experience, which has to be underpinned by technology. As lockdown measures ease, the customer experience will naturally evolve and businesses need to be ready. One thing is certain: the customer experience and its ongoing evolution will persist no matter what.”
K3Carole Gilkes 20cent MeetsRetail