Technology is changing the retail landscape at a dramatic rate. The proportion of online sales continues to grow (from 2.8% in 2006 to 32.8% in 2020 – source: ONS), there are more ways to sell than ever before and the lines between online and in-store shopping are becoming increasingly blurred. To stay competitive, many retailers are now adopting the cloud to free them from the constraints of in-house IT systems, enable them to be more agile and let them take advantage of the latest technologies. Here, we’ll look at how cloud is transforming retail.
One of the major advantages of cloud over legacy in-house IT systems is that it enables data to be easily unified and systems like communications, marketing, inventory and shipping to be integrated. This provides businesses with a greater understanding of their business and more control over their operations. Instead of separate, disjointed systems, they are provided with a business-wide IT infrastructure that provides operational seamlessness.
As a result, companies are able to make operational savings, teams can collaborate better, new approaches can be developed and customer experiences can be improved.
Better visibility of supply chain and inventory
With all parts of the business connected to the cloud, retailers can have company-wide visibility of their supply chain and inventory. The cloud-based technology, blockchain, for example, offers retailers a clearer overview of the supply chain, giving them the ability to track the origin and movement of goods and create financial audit trails.
With inventory, businesses can have stock information in real-time, ensuring they have up to date information of what’s in stock and where it is. This can help them maintain stock levels, offer customers click and collect from individual stores and give the company a better understanding of what is and isn’t selling.
Seamless supplier integration
From the procurement of stock to shipping and aftersales, retailers collaborate with numerous partners to provide services to their customers. Cloud technology enables retailers and their suppliers to integrate systems, providing real-time status information. Retailers can know where their incoming consignments and outgoing deliveries are, access data from outsourced communications partners or loyalty programs and share documents with suppliers.
What’s more, some of this information can be used to enhance the customer experience, for example, sharing delivery tracking information and enabling customers to modify delivery instructions en-route, in real-time.
Personalised customer experience
Not only are customers attracted to retailers that offer personalisation; many are willing to pay more for the experience. Personalisation means the shopping experience is tailored to individual customers; they are given product recommendations and offers that are relevant to their wants and needs and this saves them a great deal of time finding the right items. This convenience makes them loyal shoppers and increases LTV.
The essential ingredient for personalisation is customer data, ideally a complete map of the customer journey. It is here where cloud plays an important role, providing real-time data on browsing and purchasing histories and linking it to all the other information the business holds on a customer to provide product recommendations and other services that are personalised for the individual.
While retailers gather a lot of valuable data, making use of it has, historically, been hampered because it was stored in different departmental silos, sometimes on separate IT systems. Cloud enables data to be unified, stored centrally and accessed by anyone who is permitted to use it.
As a result, datasets that had previously been kept isolated can be brought together to provide a far more detailed analysis. With cloud ability to offer big data analytics, together with advanced technologies like AI and machine learning, the capacity to gain new insights has never been greater. Retailers that use the cloud have benefitted from finding ways to save money, improve and automate operations and deliver new and better services for their customers. What’s more, the cloud enables them to do this quicker than ever before, giving the ability to react swiftly to changes in the marketplace.
A cost-effective IT solution
As retailers become increasingly reliant on IT, many have struggled with the cost. Cloud has enabled these businesses to shrink IT costs considerably. With cloud vendors providing the IT infrastructure, retailers no longer need to purchase and maintain expensive in-house datacentres of their own. The cloud’s pay-as-you-go payment structure is also beneficial, enabling retailers to scale up or down as demand requires, while only paying for the resources they use. And there’s no limit to the resources that are at a retailer’s disposal, should it need them.
Additionally, there are no hardware maintenance costs to pay and the service is managed, freeing up time for IT staff to work on business oriented projects. Even software is less expensive, with many cloud-based apps being open-source and vendors able to offer the most popular proprietary apps at lower costs.
Cloud has become the go-to solution for retailers, with migration accelerating significantly since the pandemic. Its ability to unify and integrate systems and data and make use of modern technologies like data analytics, AI and machine learning has provided retailers with better intelligence to improve all aspects of their businesses, cut costs and enhance user experience.