This year has been the year of the pivot for retailers as the pandemic reshaped consumer behaviors and the customer experience, most likely permanently. As we look to 2021, retailers need to focus on planning for the future with strategies that meet both the immediate and long-term needs of their customers and maximize the potential of all their sales channels. SmartBrief spoke with Poornima Ramaswamy, executive vice president of Strategic Clients at Qlik, about what changed this year for retailers, best practices for 2021 and the role data and analytics can play in helping retailers succeed.
What have been the biggest changes in the retail industry this year and what’s been driving those changes?
There have been a few major shifts this year driven by COVID-19. We saw major pandemic-related supply chain issues, retailers pivoting business models to accommodate even more robust e-commerce demand, and the reimagining of physical stores becoming more like distribution centers for at-curb pickup.
All these changes drove a definite uptick in the reliance on data and analytics, as many of our customers needed to engage other parts of their business with new and near-real time data to respond to the rapidly shifting market conditions. We also found an unprecedented level of sharing, collaboration and openness among customers, including retailers, as a collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The evolution of digital transformations, even in industries like retail which historically has heavily leveraged data for decision making, has accelerated. We’re seeing more retailers fully embrace the cloud and software-as-a-service to further enable their evolving business models and prepare for a hectic holiday season.
How can the move to BOPIS and curbside pickup help retailers connect with customers, make their brands memorable and cultivate customer loyalty?
While BOPIS and curbside pickup limits the contact between retailers and customers, it is a chance to maintain a more personal experience than simply ordering online, helping consumers who are facing delays in the traditional e-commerce process get the goods they want without additional shipping costs. Additionally, with accurate data BOPIS/curbside pickup simplifies the transaction management and logistics aspects for the retailers while helping to more effectively allocate inventory. It reinforces value in the customer’s mind of having a physical store nearby, even if that store is right now acting more like a distribution center.
How can a strong returns offering can help inspire confidence among consumers in the new retail normal?
With so much of our commerce now virtual-first, consumers no longer evaluate goods in-person and depend on the retailer to accurately represent each product. Having a strong return offering helps cultivate trust with consumers, and gives them a sense of security vs. inviting them to search someplace else for merchandise, which is just a click away.
How can technology and analytics drive retail success in the new year?
In 2021, being able to leverage augmented analytics will become a significant trend. For retailers to be successful moving forward, they must meet the customer expectation that they are interacting with one company in a consistent way. Said another way, customers don’t care where the product comes from as long as it is delivered on time. Augmented analytics helps enable the entire organization with insights from the vast amounts of data that retailers manage by making it easy to share insights across departments, driving data exploration through search, chat and natural language, and breaking down data silos between areas like distribution centers, physical retail locations and e-commerce.
By driving increased use of augmented analytics, all departments can work together from a common set of data that helps streamline operations to be faster, more intelligent and customer-centric.
These insights can also be used to fortify your company in uncertain times. Retailers can better handle the next natural disaster or pandemic by being “pre-active” — able to both prepare and act. This means preparing for various scenarios and having up-to-date data with triggers acting at the speed of business.
What advice would you give to retailers to help them succeed in 2021 and beyond?
Early in the pandemic, we saw a lot of business failures due to a lack of an end-to-end data strategy, exposing gaps in data pipelines and data silos that limited the ability to quickly pivot.
My advice would be to start evaluating those gaps and filling them as soon as possible. The retail industry has always been data-rich, but right now there is still a lot of uncertainty on when or if consumers will return to “normal” pre-COVID patterns. We may have just witnessed a mass transition to a blended retail format where the convenience of BOPIS and curbside pickup, when married with the anytime availability of eCommerce, makes the retail experience one where service is the determining success factor. Having as much relevant and real-time data on the customer that’s available to the entire organization will give retailers the chance to truly craft tailored experiences that engender loyalty, regardless of how the consumer prefers to shop.
Poornima offered more insights on the future of retail in the “Reinventing Retail: How Retailers Should Embrace the New Normal in 2021” webinar. Watch it now.
Poornima Ramaswamy leads Qlik’s Strategic Client Advisory Team, a multi-disciplinary team that blends sales, value engineering and consulting services. Her team designs and executes transformational strategies for large enterprise customers to maximize the value of their overall investments in data and in Qlik’s data integration and analytics platforms. In her position, Poornima also holds a leadership role within the Harvard Customer Advisory Group. Poornima joined Qlik from Cognizant, where she was the business leader for their AI & Analytics practice in North America.