As online and mobile sales rise, the retail store remains central. But bricks and mortar now depend on IT.
Yet 34 percent of shoppers still prefer the physical store for research, and 52 percent prefer it for actual product purchase.2 The store remains king.
But the digital and the physical are hardly separate. Store operations built on a solid IT foundation are key to an omnichannel strategy. And IT enables the features in-store buyers look for in a shopping experience, from knowledgeable staff to real-time personalized offers. (See Figure 1.) In fact, bricks-and-mortar retailers are discovering that they can leverage IT to compete with and beat their digital-only rivals.
“Traditional retailers face a serious threat from online-only competitors,” notes Tom Alvey, CompuCom® senior vice president for the Retail Solutions Group. “They’re realizing that if they combine their physical presence with IT capabilities, they gain a competitive advantage.”
Solid IT Strategy
What retailers need, Alvey says, is a solid IT strategy that lets them achieve the greatest return on their IT investment. That begins with effective IT governance, especially around store launches and remodels.
“In the past, retailers handled IT for new-store launches themselves,” Alvey explains. “That meant trying to get the best deals from equipment OEMs, making a bulk purchase and then storing equipment during store rollouts, and tying up a lot of investment in hardware and in IT expertise.”
Smart retailers are offloading those tasks, working with a partner that can manage equipment procurement, configuration and installation for them. That way, in-store IT equipment is deployed with a just-in-time approach to support new-store launches. Retailers get a return on their IT as soon as they’ve made the investment. They also maximize equipment warranty periods and avoid tax accruals.
An Ounce of Prevention
Retail IT strategy continues with preventive maintenance of IT devices. “Equipment maintenance has always been an issue for retail stores,” Alvey explains. “Store personnel are rightly
The solution is active monitoring and scheduled maintenance that address potential problems before they occur. That can be cheaper in the long run, and it helps avoid revenue-robbing store downtime. Such scheduled maintenance should also include regular software updates and security patches to protect sensitive customer and financial data.
“Consumers today, especially millennials, have no tolerance for downtime,” Alvey points out. “If you can’t make the sale the moment a customer wants to buy, you’ll lose that revenue. So your equipment has to be up and running.”
Support With a Smile
To that end, retailers need a world-class service desk, especially for the growing number of tablets and other handheld devices used by store personnel.
“Underutilized mobile devices are a growing problem for retailers,” Alvey observes. When CompuCom takes over mobile device management (MDM) for retailers, he says, it’s not unusual to discover that as much as 20 percent of mobile devices are simply inactive.
That’s a problem, and not just because IT investments are gathering dust. “By empowering your sales staff with mobile capabilities, you can offer an endless aisle,” Alvey says, “allowing customers to purchase items that aren’t in stock in the store, for example. The ability to capture a sale right when the customer is ready to purchase is crucial, because if the customer walks out the door, your chance of making the sale later is far less than 50 percent.”
An effective service desk can help you make sure that any issues with in-store IT equipment are resolved quickly, and that store personnel know how to take full advantage of the IT capabilities available to them.
Measure What Matters
Finally, retailers are accustomed to carefully measuring sales and customer behavior. But they haven’t applied that same analytics focus to IT equipment.
“You should be monitoring your IT equipment so that when you see errors on a hard drive, for example, you can apply predictive analytics to anticipate a failure,” Alvey says. “Effective remote support can even handle a repair before the end user knows something was about to break.”
In fact, a qualified IT provider can leverage robotic process automation, a form of artificial intelligence, to automatically monitor, analyze and resolve certain in-store IT issues. When necessary, such digital agents can be combined with traditional on-site support, automatically dispatching a technician to make a proactive service call.
Many of these issues are nuts-and-bolts IT, Alvey concedes. But they deliver return on in-store IT investments. And they’re what position retailers to invest in more innovative IT solutions, like digital signage and real-time mobile offers, that will increasingly give stores competitive advantage over online competitors.
1,2 “Total Retail Survey 2016,” PwC, February 2016
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