Your Customer’s Experience Is Broken: Here’s How To Fix It

Tim Clark

Let’s face it: There are many fragile – and oftentimes broken – moments in the customer journey. Departmental handoffs and changes in channel, for instance, add complexity and threaten to derail purchases and sometimes harm loyalty. So how can you bridge those gaps and deliver the seamless experience your customers really want?

It’s important to identify the “gray areas” in your processes and how they affect your customer’s experience, according to Lisa James, head of Solution Marketing, Service Audience, SAP Hybris.

“We’ve all experienced interacting with certain companies and their experience appears to be operating in silos and they can’t quite connect the dots,” said James (pictured above) during a compelling presentation at the recent SAP Hybris Live: Digital Summit. “From the company’s perspective, they might understand the problems this poses to the business: missed opportunities, missed revenues, missed sales. But it’s very important to view from the perspective of the customer.”

James said customers are hearing a lot of noise and messages from competitors and are more than willing to jump ship than ever before, even if they’ve been loyal for years.

“The instant they hit a disconnect, the instant their experience becomes fragmented and frustrated, they’re willing to leave,” said James. “So it’s really important to view these gray areas, these disconnects from the view of the customer, and how it affects their journey.”

Getting out the gray

While the customer journey is fraught with troublesome gray areas, don’t fret. Focus on the following areas instead:

  • Awareness: A customer typically becomes aware of a need through a triggering action, like a tweet, blog, email promotion, or viral video. “Start doing research to figure out ways to fill this need,” said James, who stresses the importance of appearing in top Google search results. “You need to be searchable to help fulfill a customer’s need.”
  • Interest: Customers are trying to create a viable list of options. Companies should be aware of their customers’ needs, get data on them, and use it as an opportunity to enact a specific campaign to get their attention and show them that your company is worth looking into.
  • Consideration: Customers now have some offers and at this point should be 100% aware of who you are. “Now is the time to influence them to take the plunge and go with your company,” said James.
  • Action: Customers go from cart to confirmation, signing contracts, or committing to some type of subscription model. “It needs to be very easy for them to understand how to do this,” said James. “A lot of people think the customer journey ends here, but it does not.”
  • Use: The customer has signed the contract, but now they might have a question or an issue. Now is the time to be really proactive, to understand what those issues are – even before a customer asks, according to James.
  • Advocacy: Thanks to the digital era, advocacy is in perpetual motion. Feedback, for instance, and the way your customer is talking about your company, whether in person, online, good or bad, needs to be managed. You can turn good feedback into testimonials and address negative feedback.

“Unfortunately, things rarely work end to end,” said James. “Companies work off a broken customer journey, and your customer’s experience is really fragmented.”

Common customer experiences that turn into frustrations

Customers often experience discrepancies between in-store and in-person. The problem is that a lot of companies work off this “split personality” model, according to James. “From a company’s perspective, you don’t want to have multiple voices,” she said. “Customers are already hearing a lot of voices from competitors, and they don’t want to hear multiple voices from the same company. It’s hard to get behind a company if you don’t know what they truly stand for.”

To learn more, watch the re-play of “Bridging the Gaps in the Customer Journey” in its entirety (email registration required).

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About Tim Clark

Tim Clark is the Head of Brand Journalism at SAP. He is responsible for evangelizing and implementing writing best practices that generate results across blog channels, integrated marketing plans and native advertising efforts.

Three Ways IoT Improves Retail In-Flow Management

Joerg Koesters

Nothing is more exciting for a retailer than to have an influx of customers waiting for you to open your doors. They hurry inside and disperse down the aisles while you and your employees try to help each customer with their needs.

Yet you feel like you could be doing more to increase sales and provide an enhanced shopping experience. You want to be able to introduce new products to customers and help them find harder-to-locate items easier. You also want to increase the amount of time that customers shop in your store, as this increases the chances that shoppers will make a sale and purchase more items.

Providing an enhanced shopping experience requires you to have a better understanding of a customer’s shopping habits. You need to figure out how customers are navigating your store and interacting with product displays. Are they drawn to certain items that you have promoted, or are they ignoring these items? Why are some products not selling as well? Does it have to do with where the items are placed on shelves? Are customers spending too little time browsing for purchases?

Tackling in-flow management analysis in the retail sector

Trying to gather data about a customer’s flow patterns when shopping for products is not so easy. Many retailers have turned to the Internet of Things (IoT) to track a customer’s location by using push notifications from their smartphone app. This strategy provides an accurate evaluation of how the customer moves inside the store. It can also be used to send sales promotions and discounts for products.

Yet there are downsides to using smartphone app push notifications. Some customers see retailers’ bombardment of promotions to smartphones as spam. These customers might turn off the app’s push-notification feature when shopping at the store. In addition, some customers feel it is an invasion of privacy to be monitored through their smartphone.

IoT, beacons, and RFID chips could enable retailers to address the problems of in-flow management without the hard sales pitch or being overly intrusive. Here are three ways IoT can improve retail in-flow management to boost product sales and create an exceptional experience for customers.

1. Cart and basket beacons

To analyze customer foot traffic, retailers can place tracking technology in shopping carts and baskets. This allows people to maintain their privacy while browsing through the store as the same time retailers can gather important data regarding customer movement. Retailers could see areas where customers linger the most and those that are seldom visited.

This information could be used in several ways: to identify popular products customers will go out of their way to find; to change shelving positions to better optimize foot-traffic flow; to periodically reorganize stock to introduce products that have been located outside customers’ usual traffic patterns.

2. Display monitors for related products

How can you find a way to promote products without blasting notifications on customers’ smartphones? By using a combination of beacons on shopping carts and baskets along with display monitors.

When a customer places an item in the basket, a signal is sent to a nearby display monitor, which shows related items that the customer may be interested in. For example, if someone is shopping for laundry detergent in the cleaning aisle, a mounted store display on the shelf or at the end of the aisle can display fabric softeners and spot-treatment products. This method allows for cross-selling of products. It also reminds customers of items they may have forgotten to place on their shopping lists.

3. Improved traffic patterns

Happy customers who have had a great experience are eager to tell their friends about your store and return to purchase more products. One way to improve the shopping environment is to speed up the checkout lane. Push notifications on smartphones can alert customers in long checkout lines about the location of newly opened cashier lanes. This method can reduce store congestion during busy times of the day.

Another up-and-coming IoT innovation is to eliminate the cashier lane entirely by allowing customers to check out with RFID tags on products. Customers would set up payment options (e.g., bank accounts, credit cards) in advance with the retail store. Sensors at the store exit read the RFID tags on the products customers have selected and automatically deduct the correct payment as customers walk out of the store. Customers can just leave with their purchases without waiting for a cashier to ring them up.

IoT advancing retail in-flow management

The IoT is ushering in limitless innovations to retail. The technology is continually being adapted to support retail owners’ efforts to improve processes, increase employee productivity, and create the ultimate customer experience. Big Data and technology connectivity can help keep operational costs down and increase sales for all types of retail businesses.

Learn how to innovate at scale by incorporating individual innovations back to the core business to drive tangible business value. Read Accelerating Digital Transformation in Retail. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today by reading Industry 4.0: What’s Next?

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About Joerg Koesters

Joerg Koesters is the Head of Retail Marketing and Communication at SAP. He is a Technology Marketing executive with 20 years of experience in Marketing, Sales and Consulting, Joerg has deep knowledge in retail and consumer products having worked both in the industry and in the technology sector.

Marketing Is Now A Major Focus Of University Plans

Malcolm Woodfield

It’s been said that “every company is now a tech company.” The underlying truth in that statement nods to the necessity of staying competitive in a landscape of whirlwind change. The advent of cloud computing, data analysis, and other key technologies has forced enterprises to innovate to remain viable.

Higher education is no exception. It’s one of the more competitive industries across the globe. In the face of increased market competition, institutions must use the full array of tools at their disposal, technological and otherwise.

Marketing is one of the most essential of those tools. Now, more than ever, the ability to effectively manage marketing can prove crucial to the ultimate success or failure of an institution.

Why a new approach to marketing is critical for the modern campus

Successful institutions share many attributes. They cultivate a positive reputation. They offer a compelling narrative for public consumption. They promote research effectively. They recruit students, build relationships in the community, and maintain a unified brand and message.

Strong marketing is essential to accomplishing all of these things, and that’s why institutions are focusing more effort and resources in this area. Institutions have increased their marketing spend by more than 50% since 2000. The most forward-thinking schools have realized that selling a school shares much in common with selling a consumer product. Defining your brand – and differentiating yourself in the market – are critical to success.

This shift toward more intensive marketing is a natural evolution. After all, marketing works – a great brand and reputation attracts customers and skilled workers like a magnet. Now that universities are acting more like companies, those that don’t keep pace are likely to be left behind.

This raises an important question: What is the best way for today’s institutions to market effectively? One part of the answer involves the adoption of data analytics. Today’s most powerful platforms can deliver personalized, contextualized marketing at scale.

And that is a real game changer for today’s schools and universities.

Using data to produce next-level marketing outcomes

Personalized marketing is powerful for two reasons. First, it’s simply more relevant. When marketers cast a net that’s too broad, we tend to regard it as noise to be ignored. If something isn’t relevant, we don’t even look at it, never mind act on it.

Second, personalized marketing appeals to basic human nature. We respond favorably when people say our names, for example – a trick known on every sales floor across the globe. When we see that a marketer has taken the time to make a personal, relevant appeal, we feel more positively disposed to act.

The best marketing goes a step beyond personal and into the contextual, however. Contextual marketing offers deeper insight into past behavior, then uses predictive analytics to gain a window into future actions. This ultimately helps gauge the present intent of a customer or potential client.

The takeaway

Higher-education institutions have doubled down on their marketing efforts in order to remain competitive. The most forward-thinking schools understand that effective marketing is a necessity and a key market differentiator. Great marketing helps recruit students and attract high-quality workers. It’s also essential for maintaining a compelling public brand.

For more insight on digital leaders, check out the SAP Center for Business Insight report, conducted in collaboration with Oxford Economics, “SAP Digital Transformation Executive Study: 4 Ways Leaders Set Themselves Apart.”

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Malcolm Woodfield

About Malcolm Woodfield

Malcolm Woodfield is the Global Vice President, Head of Industry Business Unit Education & Research, at SAP. He manages a global team accountable for the overall business, market, customer, and revenue success of the Higher Education / Public Services portfolio (including all Applications, Analytics, Mobile, HANA, and Cloud) globally.

The Blockchain Solution

By Gil Perez, Tom Raftery, Hans Thalbauer, Dan Wellers, and Fawn Fitter

In 2013, several UK supermarket chains discovered that products they were selling as beef were actually made at least partly—and in some cases, entirely—from horsemeat. The resulting uproar led to a series of product recalls, prompted stricter food testing, and spurred the European food industry to take a closer look at how unlabeled or mislabeled ingredients were finding their way into the food chain.

By 2020, a scandal like this will be eminently preventable.

The separation between bovine and equine will become immutable with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, which will track the provenance and identity of every animal from stall to store, adding the data to a blockchain that anyone can check but no one can alter.

Food processing companies will be able to use that blockchain to confirm and label the contents of their products accordingly—down to the specific farms and animals represented in every individual package. That level of detail may be too much information for shoppers, but they will at least be able to trust that their meatballs come from the appropriate species.

The Spine of Digitalization

Keeping food safer and more traceable is just the beginning, however. Improvements in the supply chain, which have been incremental for decades despite billions of dollars of technology investments, are about to go exponential. Emerging technologies are converging to transform the supply chain from tactical to strategic, from an easily replicable commodity to a new source of competitive differentiation.

You may already be thinking about how to take advantage of blockchain technology, which makes data and transactions immutable, transparent, and verifiable (see “What Is Blockchain and How Does It Work?”). That will be a powerful tool to boost supply chain speed and efficiency—always a worthy goal, but hardly a disruptive one.

However, if you think of blockchain as the spine of digitalization and technologies such as AI, the IoT, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, and drones as the limbs, you have a powerful supply chain body that can leapfrog ahead of its competition.

What Is Blockchain and How Does It Work?

Here’s why blockchain technology is critical to transforming the supply chain.

Blockchain is essentially a sequential, distributed ledger of transactions that is constantly updated on a global network of computers. The ownership and history of a transaction is embedded in the blockchain at the transaction’s earliest stages and verified at every subsequent stage.

A blockchain network uses vast amounts of computing power to encrypt the ledger as it’s being written. This makes it possible for every computer in the network to verify the transactions safely and transparently. The more organizations that participate in the ledger, the more complex and secure the encryption becomes, making it increasingly tamperproof.

Why does blockchain matter for the supply chain?

  • It enables the safe exchange of value without a central verifying partner, which makes transactions faster and less expensive.
  • It dramatically simplifies recordkeeping by establishing a single, authoritative view of the truth across all parties.
  • It builds a secure, immutable history and chain of custody as different parties handle the items being shipped, and it updates the relevant documentation.
  • By doing these things, blockchain allows companies to create smart contracts based on programmable business logic, which can execute themselves autonomously and thereby save time and money by reducing friction and intermediaries.

Hints of the Future

In the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, we had no idea that the internet would become so large and pervasive, nor that we’d find a way to carry it all in our pockets on small slabs of glass.

But we could tell that it had vast potential.

Today, with the combination of emerging technologies that promise to turbocharge digital transformation, we’re just beginning to see how we might turn the supply chain into a source of competitive advantage (see “What’s the Magic Combination?”).

What’s the Magic Combination?

Those who focus on blockchain in isolation will miss out on a much bigger supply chain opportunity.

Many experts believe emerging technologies will work with blockchain to digitalize the supply chain and create new business models:

  • Blockchain will provide the foundation of automated trust for all parties in the supply chain.
  • The IoT will link objects—from tiny devices to large machines—and generate data about status, locations, and transactions that will be recorded on the blockchain.
  • 3D printing will extend the supply chain to the customer’s doorstep with hyperlocal manufacturing of parts and products with IoT sensors built into the items and/or their packaging. Every manufactured object will be smart, connected, and able to communicate so that it can be tracked and traced as needed.
  • Big Data management tools will process all the information streaming in around the clock from IoT sensors.
  • AI and machine learning will analyze this enormous amount of data to reveal patterns and enable true predictability in every area of the supply chain.

Combining these technologies with powerful analytics tools to predict trends will make lack of visibility into the supply chain a thing of the past. Organizations will be able to examine a single machine across its entire lifecycle and identify areas where they can improve performance and increase return on investment. They’ll be able to follow and monitor every component of a product, from design through delivery and service. They’ll be able to trigger and track automated actions between and among partners and customers to provide customized transactions in real time based on real data.

After decades of talk about markets of one, companies will finally have the power to create them—at scale and profitably.

Amazon, for example, is becoming as much a logistics company as a retailer. Its ordering and delivery systems are so streamlined that its customers can launch and complete a same-day transaction with a push of a single IP-enabled button or a word to its ever-attentive AI device, Alexa. And this level of experimentation and innovation is bubbling up across industries.

Consider manufacturing, where the IoT is transforming automation inside already highly automated factories. Machine-to-machine communication is enabling robots to set up, provision, and unload equipment quickly and accurately with minimal human intervention. Meanwhile, sensors across the factory floor are already capable of gathering such information as how often each machine needs maintenance or how much raw material to order given current production trends.

Once they harvest enough data, businesses will be able to feed it through machine learning algorithms to identify trends that forecast future outcomes. At that point, the supply chain will start to become both automated and predictive. We’ll begin to see business models that include proactively scheduling maintenance, replacing parts just before they’re likely to break, and automatically ordering materials and initiating customer shipments.

Italian train operator Trenitalia, for example, has put IoT sensors on its locomotives and passenger cars and is using analytics and in-memory computing to gauge the health of its trains in real time, according to an article in Computer Weekly. “It is now possible to affordably collect huge amounts of data from hundreds of sensors in a single train, analyse that data in real time and detect problems before they actually happen,” Trenitalia’s CIO Danilo Gismondi told Computer Weekly.

Blockchain allows all the critical steps of the supply chain to go electronic and become irrefutably verifiable by all the critical parties within minutes: the seller and buyer, banks, logistics carriers, and import and export officials.

The project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018, will change Trenitalia’s business model, allowing it to schedule more trips and make each one more profitable. The railway company will be able to better plan parts inventories and determine which lines are consistently performing poorly and need upgrades. The new system will save €100 million a year, according to ARC Advisory Group.

New business models continue to evolve as 3D printers become more sophisticated and affordable, making it possible to move the end of the supply chain closer to the customer. Companies can design parts and products in materials ranging from carbon fiber to chocolate and then print those items in their warehouse, at a conveniently located third-party vendor, or even on the client’s premises.

In addition to minimizing their shipping expenses and reducing fulfillment time, companies will be able to offer more personalized or customized items affordably in small quantities. For example, clothing retailer Ministry of Supply recently installed a 3D printer at its Boston store that enables it to make an article of clothing to a customer’s specifications in under 90 minutes, according to an article in Forbes.

This kind of highly distributed manufacturing has potential across many industries. It could even create a market for secure manufacturing for highly regulated sectors, allowing a manufacturer to transmit encrypted templates to printers in tightly protected locations, for example.

Meanwhile, organizations are investigating ways of using blockchain technology to authenticate, track and trace, automate, and otherwise manage transactions and interactions, both internally and within their vendor and customer networks. The ability to collect data, record it on the blockchain for immediate verification, and make that trustworthy data available for any application delivers indisputable value in any business context. The supply chain will be no exception.

Blockchain Is the Change Driver

The supply chain is configured as we know it today because it’s impossible to create a contract that accounts for every possible contingency. Consider cross-border financial transfers, which are so complex and must meet so many regulations that they require a tremendous number of intermediaries to plug the gaps: lawyers, accountants, customer service reps, warehouse operators, bankers, and more. By reducing that complexity, blockchain technology makes intermediaries less necessary—a transformation that is revolutionary even when measured only in cost savings.

“If you’re selling 100 items a minute, 24 hours a day, reducing the cost of the supply chain by just $1 per item saves you more than $52.5 million a year,” notes Dirk Lonser, SAP go-to-market leader at DXC Technology, an IT services company. “By replacing manual processes and multiple peer-to-peer connections through fax or e-mail with a single medium where everyone can exchange verified information instantaneously, blockchain will boost profit margins exponentially without raising prices or even increasing individual productivity.”

But the potential for blockchain extends far beyond cost cutting and streamlining, says Irfan Khan, CEO of supply chain management consulting and systems integration firm Bristlecone, a Mahindra Group company. It will give companies ways to differentiate.

“Blockchain will let enterprises more accurately trace faulty parts or products from end users back to factories for recalls,” Khan says. “It will streamline supplier onboarding, contracting, and management by creating an integrated platform that the company’s entire network can access in real time. It will give vendors secure, transparent visibility into inventory 24×7. And at a time when counterfeiting is a real concern in multiple industries, it will make it easy for both retailers and customers to check product authenticity.”

Blockchain allows all the critical steps of the supply chain to go electronic and become irrefutably verifiable by all the critical parties within minutes: the seller and buyer, banks, logistics carriers, and import and export officials. Although the key parts of the process remain the same as in today’s analog supply chain, performing them electronically with blockchain technology shortens each stage from hours or days to seconds while eliminating reams of wasteful paperwork. With goods moving that quickly, companies have ample room for designing new business models around manufacturing, service, and delivery.

Challenges on the Path to Adoption

For all this to work, however, the data on the blockchain must be correct from the beginning. The pills, produce, or parts on the delivery truck need to be the same as the items listed on the manifest at the loading dock. Every use case assumes that the data is accurate—and that will only happen when everything that’s manufactured is smart, connected, and able to self-verify automatically with the help of machine learning tuned to detect errors and potential fraud.

Companies are already seeing the possibilities of applying this bundle of emerging technologies to the supply chain. IDC projects that by 2021, at least 25% of Forbes Global 2000 (G2000) companies will use blockchain services as a foundation for digital trust at scale; 30% of top global manufacturers and retailers will do so by 2020. IDC also predicts that by 2020, up to 10% of pilot and production blockchain-distributed ledgers will incorporate data from IoT sensors.

Despite IDC’s optimism, though, the biggest barrier to adoption is the early stage level of enterprise use cases, particularly around blockchain. Currently, the sole significant enterprise blockchain production system is the virtual currency Bitcoin, which has unfortunately been tainted by its associations with speculation, dubious financial transactions, and the so-called dark web.

The technology is still in a sufficiently early stage that there’s significant uncertainty about its ability to handle the massive amounts of data a global enterprise supply chain generates daily. Never mind that it’s completely unregulated, with no global standard. There’s also a critical global shortage of experts who can explain emerging technologies like blockchain, the IoT, and machine learning to nontechnology industries and educate organizations in how the technologies can improve their supply chain processes. Finally, there is concern about how blockchain’s complex algorithms gobble computing power—and electricity (see “Blockchain Blackouts”).

Blockchain Blackouts

Blockchain is a power glutton. Can technology mediate the issue?

A major concern today is the enormous carbon footprint of the networks creating and solving the algorithmic problems that keep blockchains secure. Although virtual currency enthusiasts claim the problem is overstated, Michael Reed, head of blockchain technology for Intel, has been widely quoted as saying that the energy demands of blockchains are a significant drain on the world’s electricity resources.

Indeed, Wired magazine has estimated that by July 2019, the Bitcoin network alone will require more energy than the entire United States currently uses and that by February 2020 it will use as much electricity as the entire world does today.

Still, computing power is becoming more energy efficient by the day and sticking with paperwork will become too slow, so experts—Intel’s Reed among them—consider this a solvable problem.

“We don’t know yet what the market will adopt. In a decade, it might be status quo or best practice, or it could be the next Betamax, a great technology for which there was no demand,” Lonser says. “Even highly regulated industries that need greater transparency in the entire supply chain are moving fairly slowly.”

Blockchain will require acceptance by a critical mass of companies, governments, and other organizations before it displaces paper documentation. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue: multiple companies need to adopt these technologies at the same time so they can build a blockchain to exchange information, yet getting multiple companies to do anything simultaneously is a challenge. Some early initiatives are already underway, though:

  • A London-based startup called Everledger is using blockchain and IoT technology to track the provenance, ownership, and lifecycles of valuable assets. The company began by tracking diamonds from mine to jewelry using roughly 200 different characteristics, with a goal of stopping both the demand for and the supply of “conflict diamonds”—diamonds mined in war zones and sold to finance insurgencies. It has since expanded to cover wine, artwork, and other high-value items to prevent fraud and verify authenticity.
  • In September 2017, SAP announced the creation of its SAP Leonardo Blockchain Co-Innovation program, a group of 27 enterprise customers interested in co-innovating around blockchain and creating business buy-in. The diverse group of participants includes management and technology services companies Capgemini and Deloitte, cosmetics company Natura Cosméticos S.A., and Moog Inc., a manufacturer of precision motion control systems.
  • Two of Europe’s largest shipping ports—Rotterdam and Antwerp—are working on blockchain projects to streamline interaction with port customers. The Antwerp terminal authority says eliminating paperwork could cut the costs of container transport by as much as 50%.
  • The Chinese online shopping behemoth Alibaba is experimenting with blockchain to verify the authenticity of food products and catch counterfeits before they endanger people’s health and lives.
  • Technology and transportation executives have teamed up to create the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), a forum for developing blockchain standards and education for the freight industry.

It’s likely that the first blockchain-based enterprise supply chain use case will emerge in the next year among companies that see it as an opportunity to bolster their legal compliance and improve business processes. Once that happens, expect others to follow.

Customers Will Expect Change

It’s only a matter of time before the supply chain becomes a competitive driver. The question for today’s enterprises is how to prepare for the shift. Customers are going to expect constant, granular visibility into their transactions and faster, more customized service every step of the way. Organizations will need to be ready to meet those expectations.

If organizations have manual business processes that could never be automated before, now is the time to see if it’s possible. Organizations that have made initial investments in emerging technologies are looking at how their pilot projects are paying off and where they might extend to the supply chain. They are starting to think creatively about how to combine technologies to offer a product, service, or business model not possible before.

A manufacturer will load a self-driving truck with a 3D printer capable of creating a customer’s ordered item en route to delivering it. A vendor will capture the market for a socially responsible product by allowing its customers to track the product’s production and verify that none of its subcontractors use slave labor. And a supermarket chain will win over customers by persuading them that their choice of supermarket is also a choice between being certain of what’s in their food and simply hoping that what’s on the label matches what’s inside.

At that point, a smart supply chain won’t just be a competitive edge. It will become a competitive necessity. D!


About the Authors

Gil Perez is Senior Vice President, Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain, at SAP.

Tom Raftery is Global Vice President, Futurist, and Internet of Things Evangelist, at SAP.

Hans Thalbauer is Senior Vice President, Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain, at SAP.

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology.

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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Four Retail Technology Trends To Take Off In 2018

Shaily Kumar

Over the past few years, technology has seen a significant shift from cyclical, invention-led spending on point solutions to investments targeting customer-driven, end-to-end value. The next wave of disruption and productivity improvements is here, which means a huge opportunity for digital-focused enterprises – if you are following the right roadmap.

Technology trends have significant potential over the next few years. Establishing a digital platform will not only set the stage for business innovation to provide competitive advantage, but it will also create new business models that will change the way we do business. Technology trends in 2018 will lay the foundation for the maturity of innovative technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning and will prepare both businesses and shoppers to be ready for their consumption.

Like any other industry, retail is being disrupted. It is no longer enough to simply stock racks with alluring products and wait for customers to rush through the door. Technological innovation is changing the way we shop. Customers can find the lowest price for any product with just a few screen touches. They can read online reviews, have products sent to their home, try them, and return anything they don’t want – all for little or nothing out of pocket. If there are problems, they can use social networks to call out brands that come up short.

Retailers are making their products accessible from websites and mobile applications, with many running effective Internet business operations rather than brick-and-mortar stores. They convey merchandise to the customer’s front entry and are set up with web-based networking media if things turn out badly.

Smart retailers are striving to fulfill changing customer needs and working to guarantee top customer service regardless of how their customer interacts with them.

2017 saw the development of some progressive technology in retail, and 2018 will be another energizing year for the retail industry. Today’s informed customers expect a more engaging shopping experience, with a consistent mix of both online and in-store recommendations. The retail experience is poised to prosper throughout next couple of years – for retailers that are prepared to embrace technology.

Here are four areas of retail technology I predict will take off in 2018:

In-store GPS-driven shopping trolleys

Supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s now enable their customers to scan and pay for products using a mobile app instead of waiting in a checkout line. The next phase of this involves intelligent shopping trolleys, or grocery store GPS: Customers use a touch screen to load shopping lists, and the system helps them find the items in the store. Customers can then check off and pay for items as they go, directly on-screen. These shopping trolleys will make their way into stores around the last quarter of 2018.

Electronic rack edge names

Electronic rack edge names are not yet broadly utilized, but this could change in 2018 as more retailers adopt this technology. Currently, retail workers must physically select and update printed labels to reflect changes in price, promotions, etc. This technology makes the process more efficient by handling such changes electronically.

Reference point technology

Despite the fact that it’s been around since 2013, reference point technology hasn’t yet been utilized to its fullest potential. In the last few years, however, it’s started to pick up in industries like retail. It’s now being used by a few retailers for area-based promotions.

Some interesting uses I’ve observed: Retailers can send messages to customers when they’re nearby a store location, and in-store mannequins can offer information about the clothing and accessories they’re wearing. I anticipate that this innovation will take off throughout 2018 and into 2019.

Machine intelligence

The technological innovations describe above will also provide retailers with new data streams. These data sources, when merged with existing customer data, online, and ERP data, will lead to new opportunities. Recently Walmart announced it would begin utilizing rack examining robots to help review its stores. The machines will check stock, prices, and even help settle lost inventory. It will also help retailers learn more about changing customer behavior in real time, which will boost engagement.

Clearly, technology and digital transformation in retail have changed the way we live and shop. 2018 will see emerging technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence using structured and unstructured data to deliver innovation. As technology develops, it will continue to transform and enhance the retail experience.

For more insight on e-commerce, see Cognitive Commerce In The Digital World: Enhancing The Customer Journey.

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Shaily Kumar

About Shaily Kumar

Shailendra has been on a quest to help organisations make money out of data and has generated an incremental value of over one billion dollars through analytics and cognitive processes. With a global experience of more than two decades, Shailendra has worked with a myriad of Corporations, Consulting Services and Software Companies in various industries like Retail, Telecommunications, Financial Services and Travel - to help them realise incremental value hidden in zettabytes of data. He has published multiple articles in international journals about Analytics and Cognitive Solutions; and recently published “Making Money out of Data” which showcases five business stories from various industries on how successful companies make millions of dollars in incremental value using analytics. Prior to joining SAP, Shailendra was Partner / Analytics & Cognitive Leader, Asia at IBM where he drove the cognitive business across Asia. Before joining IBM, he was the Managing Director and Analytics Lead at Accenture delivering value to its clients across Australia and New Zealand. Coming from the industry, Shailendra held key Executive positions driving analytics at Woolworths and Coles in the past.