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Is a frankenstack getting in the way of your retail customer experience?

customer experience
(Image credit: Image Credit: Georgejmclittle / Shutterstock)

Brick and mortar retailers have faced a myriad of uncertainty and challenges in the last year. Covid lockdowns have created uncertainties that have challenged stores to create a consistent and differentiated shopping experience for customers, whether in fashion retail, general or specialist stores. 

Retailers and customers have turned to retail technology in their droves and have new expectations. During the pandemic, retailers found ways to offer safe, convenient, and contactless options for their customers to shop, adopting technologies like Scan and Go. More than half of European retailers (58.7 per cent) now either offer or are working on providing self-scanning options such as this. In addition, retailers have responded to customers' changing habits by extending their online shopping offerings, building capacity to make them more readily available to customers wanting to shop from the safety of their own homes.

However, even as retailers have accelerated their digital transformation plans and invested in technology solutions, creating a seamless customer experience is hard to achieve without reviewing and transforming the entire technology stack. To create the perfect customer experience, retailers must streamline processes to be as efficient, reliable, and cost-effective as possible. However, a recent Forrester study found that retail technology leaders spend far too much time and resources maintaining legacy infrastructures leaving them with little time to focus on their customers. Many retailers are grappling with legacy IT that is holding them back from building a modern, unified solution. 

The legacy IT aka: Frankenstack challenge

Delivering a consistent customer experience requires coordination between all moving parts of the retail ecosystem, which is a struggle for many retailers. Each IT component might be perfect on its own but cobbled together in a patchwork architecture, they become isolated, and silos emerge. The result is dysfunctional, Frankenstein-like operations, aptly known as a Frankenstack. 

Retailers need to take a more holistic approach to modernize their technology to ensure that the systems used are communicating and connected effectively and using robust enough tools to move with the fast pace of the retail market. Short-term fixes take a narrow view, missing out on the broader opportunity for a more effective solution and only delay the fallout when what is called for is an entirely different approach.

Unifying the IT landscape is key 

The end goal of any unified commerce system is to create a high-functioning ecosystem that enhances your brand's experience and guarantees sustainable profitability. Without end-to-end management or application-specific solutions, retailers risk creating a more complicated system without fulfilling the original need.

The best results are achieved by applying or developing retail technology to new processes rather than shaping existing software around new technology. One unified digital system can be designed to create system connectivity and deliver real-time data.  It helps leaders with their decision-making to stay ahead of competitors, move with retail trends, and adopt the latest frameworks and solutions without bridging applications. It acts as a nerve pathway and the beating heart of operations, an integrated digital machine with no reliance on additional applications.

How can unified commerce be mobilized? 

According to Moore's Law, mobile device technology doubles in speed and capacity every year while also halving costs. Computer vision exploits this rapidly changing landscape by bringing the physical and virtual worlds together on mobile devices. For example, simply by pointing a mobile scanning device at physical objects like groceries or garments, customers can shop safely, learn about a product or complete routine tasks in seconds. 

Instead of cobbling an app that connects to an outdated Frankenstack with outdated scanning hardware, retailers and their customers can seamlessly scan on smartphones and run operations at a fraction of the total cost, improving data insight and give customers a better experience.

Why should software & technology precede processes? 

The path taken by many retail operations who first define their business needs and then seek out additional software is not necessarily the best way to respond to the rapidly changing and complex retail landscape. Rather than applying new technologies and innovations to existing frameworks, forward-thinkers are increasingly considering the new possibilities these innovations hold and how they might help them pivot to more effective processes.

Despite using the most fantastic tools, knowledge, and feats of innovation, artificially putting them together yields a monstrosity of disparate architects and not the holistic approach retailers need to deliver superior customer services. For example, when POS systems communicate minimally with order management systems and vendor-managed inventory software is highly developed for planning but cut off from execution, order management cannot be optimized within a high-functioning ecosystem.

The question is, are retailers prepared to continue to cobble unified commerce solutions and continue to work in silos or do they want to be more forward-thinking in their approach? Do they opt for natively built and optimize the value of technological innovations and design their processes? One would argue the latter are much more likely to stand out in a competitive world for the foreseeable future.

Looking ahead, many retailers are keen to adopt technologies such as mobile computer vision to address the ever-changing industry and consumer needs. To do this, retailers must take advantage of the expanding capabilities of smart devices, incrementally delivering new standards of speed and functionality. With the point of sale no longer behind a fixed counter, blending the physical and digital will be crucial in empowering employees in-store and delivering a seamless shopping experience that customers require today.

Christian Floerkemeier, CTO and Co-founder, Scandit

Christian Floerkemeier, CTO at Scandit.