Faaez Samadi
Oct 25, 2018

Use tech to fix the back of the store

Too many retailers are drawn to the shiny side of technological possibility when they talk about ‘the store of the future’, said panellists at FUTR Asia.

L-R: Benjamin Koellman, David Westhead, John Lu, Sonia Gupta
L-R: Benjamin Koellman, David Westhead, John Lu, Sonia Gupta

In all the conversations around the melding of ecommerce and bricks-and-mortar stores, the opportunities of online to offline, too much focus is put on the front-of-store experience and not the critical back-end.

That’s according to several speakers at FUTR Asia yesterday, who were discussing the possibilities technology brings to reviving the 'high street' and physical stores.

“The front-of-store experience is the focus, but it should be: ‘what is the consumer outcome?’” said Sonia Gupta, managing director of Accenture Strategy. “How does the physicality of the experience materially add in a way that online doesn’t?”

With much discussion around things like virtual in-store assistants and connected mirrors, Benjamin Koellman, director of ecommerce at The Dairy Farm Group, said “it becomes like a toy shop, with no concerted strategy behind it”.

“The nice thing that ecommerce and data does is shed light on many operational issues, things that didn’t go well in store but we didn’t know. Like a product is out of stock, but in-store you don’t come to our customer-service desk and tell us,” he said. “With digital infrastructure, we start seeing these gaps. It raises the visibility on issues, and that’s how we look at tech. Not just the latest trends and what’s going to make the CX more fun. That’s important, but it’s also about the back-of-store stuff.”

Koellman added that his company and supermarket partners are experimenting with interactive shelf technology, which is helping monitor stocks and customer interaction—who picks something up and puts it back, for example.

“These aren’t big things that will get lots of PR, but we’re making our stores run better,” he added.  

Sorting out the back-end is critical to having a seamless online-to-offline retail experience, said David Westhead, CEO of Royal Sporting House.

“People need a reason to go to the store,” he said. “Young people are hitting all the touchpoints before online—they’ve checked your range, they’ve found their size, in your store, and they know it’s in store. If it’s then not in store, because your inventory tech isn’t right, they’ll be disappointed and may not come back.”

Gupta also made a salient point when it comes to technology in retail: “How do you stay cost-effective when delivering an experience? This is an area that isn’t discussed nearly enough.”

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