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Business and Technology Insights

Product and Price to Superior Customer Experience – Retail’s Shifting Focus

 
September 14, 2017

The digital five forces – mobility, artificial intelligence, Big Data, cloud and social media have impacted all industries. Retail is no exception, and is emerging as one of the pioneers of the digital revolution completely transforming in-store and online retailing cycles and experiences. Along with exciting opportunities, digital also presents an important responsibility for retailers – the need to continuously excite and stay close to customers to maintain market position, and stay ahead of competition. Digital has ushered the new retail era from product play, discount sales and loyalty programs, to superior customer experience. Working in unison, the digital five forces are enabling retailers to identify customer preferences, behaviors, buying patterns, and offer personalized buying experience, which in turn ensures customer loyalty.

The focus shift from product play to superior experience has given rise to customer centric merchandizing and re-imagined selling points such as mobile and digital payments. Front space on physical shelves is making way for premium positions on ecommerce sites. Based on customer preferences, personalized physical and digital experiences are becoming a reality. Real time inventory is driving accelerated fulfillment, and re-imagined stores with omni-channel presence are fueling shared economies and next-gen retail such as as a service and subscription based models. Besides ensuring access to a large consumer base and market, these shared economies also enable retailers to meet fluctuating demands during lean, peak, and festive seasons.

While these trends hold potential to positively impact customer experience, they also mandate radical change in core business and IT strategies, continuous innovation, and investments in digital transformation and newer technologies such as Agile for accelerated deliveries and social media tools for capturing customer sentiment. Social media platforms generate large volume consumer sentiment data, which could be a source for consumer insights and business intelligence. When coupled with AI, social can drive personalized experience. Take for instance, Apples Siri – an AI based, intelligent voice assistant, which retailers can turn into a shopping buddy, to generate demand through shopping recommendations. Technologies like the IoT and mobile are driving connected stores, interactive displays, touch screens, click and collect delivery options, in-store WiFi, augmented reality and mobile point of sale. Traditional, in-premise infrastructure is no longer an option for such intelligent and futuristic retail use cases, simply because in-premise computing infrastructure cannot cope with the scalability and volume demand. Plus, continuous re-configuring and re-provisioning of in-premise infrastructure can disrupt business operations.

These intelligent use cases need high computational capabilities, rapid elasticity, resiliency, on-demand and dynamically re-configurable infrastructure and environments. Here, cloud computing takes center stage, with its pay-per-use, as a service model, which brings not just long term scalability, but also immediate elasticity meeting the sudden bursts in data bandwidth and environment provisioning with elastic storage and on-demand computing capability all with reduced investments.

Among the five digital forces, cloud computing enables effective utilization of the other four forces. Additionally, cloud offers on-demand usage, ubiquitous access to network and storage, and disaster recovery, which make it a vital enabler for retails digital transformation. The need for superior customer experience and continuous infrastructure availability, combined with features like resource sharing and pooling, integration of on-premise and cloud applications, shift of ownership, performance, and access to third party APIs and services, make the cloud business case even stronger. However the real value for the investment on cloud lies on how it positively impacts the customer experience.

The cloud also introduces challenges and risks security breaches like the iCloud hack must be pre-empted, intellectual property and sensitive customer data must be protected especially when they reside on public clouds, compliance with geography specific regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA must be ensured, connection latency between on-premise and cloud applications or VR/ AR applications must be addressed, while ensuring continuous availability, interoperability and compatibility of critical systems and applications.

While the cloud is a great idea, it calls for a new QA and testing approach. With retail heading towards zero tolerance to errors, re-imagining and transforming QA is pivotal to mitigate risks and realize the clouds benefits. Are QA teams ready for this change? In the past, QA focused on delivering the right functionality. But now, as digital proliferates into the retailers complex IT landscape, QAs responsibility is much beyond functionality certification. Experience focused, business process, multi-tenancy, security penetration, compliance, availability, resilience, performance, and business continuity testing have emerged as new applied areas of QA, and mainstream testing types.

As digital reshapes the future of retail, the new era demands QA evolution. As a part of the QA fraternity, I am very excited to witness and contribute to this evolution.

Swarnakavitha Soundrapandi is a Solutions Architect for TCS Retail Quality Engineering (QE), responsible for providing strategic QE solutions for multiple retail customers in US, UK and Europe geographies. She has 16 years of IT experience and has played key roles in Operations support, development projects for various datawarehouse engagements and has managed large programmes, WMS implementations and Digital portfolios for testing. In her current role, in addition to providing solutions for setting up various types of TCoEs, she is also designing QE solutions focused on new trends like Cloud, Devops and Agile transformations.