Driving retail technology forward: The innovative practices of 2012

Earlier this week, the National Retail Federation’s annual convention and expo drew in a crowd of over 20,000, all congregating to discuss technology innovations and trends around the theme of “Retail’s New Rules: Engage & Evolve”. As one retail analyst put it, “retailers are back on the offense” and are seeking ways to drive new growth in 2012.

The retail industry is undergoing its largest disruptive change in decades, with factors such as the slow economy, housing slump and high unemployment drastically effecting retailers’ budgets and spending priorities. Meanwhile, consumers are becoming increasingly informed and mobile, as today’s shoppers are more tech-savvy than ever before and looking for ways to use technology as part of their shopping experience. As a result of these demands, retailers have been forced to make technological advancements under heavy constraints; in turn, vendors must be able to provide retailers with the technology to enable them to continue innovating without sacrificing legacy IT investments that would set them back financially.

After attending NRF this year, one can’t help but notice a number of major trends emerging in this space. As retail IT spending rises and consumers gradually become more confident, retailers will look to stay ahead of the curve and adopt innovative technology practices that keep them continually connected to today’s consumer.

Trend #1: Mobile Marketing & Analytics

Retailers have the opportunity to engage and, ultimately, convert today’s highly mobile and connected consumer by embracing the technology used by these shoppers. This is where mobile marketing comes into play. Retailers can capitalize on this trend by actively pursuing the mobile channel as a means of increasing customers’ engagement and loyalty. A great example of this is when consumers are offered access to a stores’ wireless network in exchange for coupons or incentives, supplying the retailer with the individual consumer’s location information and the ability to push specific offers based on the customer’s proximity to particular merchandise. The influence of mobile both inside and out of stores allows for retailers to create a truly personalized shopping experience for the customer.

Trend #2: Cloud/Virtual Implementations

Many retailers are faced with an overwhelming amount of data, especially when you factor in the explosion of mobile devices that are making their way into consumers’ hands. Retailers need solutions that allow them to be efficient and flexible, letting them adapt easily to customer insights. Providing flexible POS systems, cloud solutions and services, and simple systems management tools are essential for any retail infrastructure that wants to be able to scale and adapt to rapid change of pace and adoption. Take, for example, Dell Boomi AtomSphere. Dell Boomi’s features simplify the move to cloud computing through easy integration with existing enterprise IT environments by providing the ability to use new cloud and SaaS applications, and connect them to existing ones.

Trend #3: The Omni-channel Experience

Customers are constantly looking for retailers to integrate the various distribution channels in a more engaged and seamless way. This emerging strategy allows consumers to engage with retailers whenever and wherever they prefer, either online or through mobile devices (or any combination of these channels). Ultimately, retailers need solutions that allow them the flexibility and control needed to deliver a compelling omni-channel shopping experience for their customers.

Trend #4: In-Store Mobility & E-Commerce

Directly related to the omni-channel shopping experience is the need for retailers to offer in-store mobility and e-commerce elements to consumers. Armed with smartphones and online research, the connected consumer arrives at the store with a mountain of knowledge that can put store personnel at a significant disadvantage. The typical consumer today uses two or more technologies to shop, and relies on social media to help make buying decisions. Retailers must have the flexibility to connect with customers on any device in order to deliver a truly personal and outstanding shopping experience.

All of these trends speak to the three areas of Dell’s customer-centric value proposition, which focus on helping retailers develop unique customer insights, deepen customer engagements, and create an efficient operation. For more information on Dell’s Retail Industry Solutions, visit http://content.dell.com/us/en/enterprise/retail.aspx.

About the Author: Mike Adams