Technology Is Creating A Completely New Environment For Retail

August 21, 2023  |  Mark Hillary

I was recently reading the 2022 annual report for the American retail company Home Depot. Anyone that has visited the US will be familiar with their large warehouse-style stores stocking tools and everything you need for home improvement.

I don’t have any connection to the company – what interested me was their approach to technology and innovation. The annual report mentions ‘technology’ 35 times. On the surface this is a retailer that sells hammers and nails, but under the cover is a very detailed technology strategy.

Home Depot even notes that by leveraging digital sales channels they increased sales by 7% in the previous year. Basically they mean focusing on mobile devices has led to a huge uptick in sales. The company now offers training to customers, to help them install products at home. This used to always be in-person in stores, but can now be virtual. They also use photos and video to help with the returns process if there is ever a problem with a product.

The annual report says this about what their customers expect in 2023:

“Customer expectations about the methods by which they purchase and receive products or services are also becoming more demanding. Customers routinely and increasingly use technology and a variety of electronic devices and digital platforms to rapidly compare products and prices, read product reviews, determine real-time product availability, and purchase products, and new channels and tools to expand the customer experience appear and change rapidly.”

This shows a great level of awareness. Home Depot knows that customers may visit a store and compare the price of an item with their competition while they are still in the store.

Retail companies with a large network of stores are often compared to online retailers, but the reality is actually more complex and is being driven by a web of technology that supports customer purchases, customer engagement, logistics, and the supply chain.

Modern retailers need to support the items in their stores with online availability. Customers may want to purchase immediately in-store or they may want to order online for delivery or they may want to see a product in-store and then choose a date for it to be delivered. They may want to check that it is in stock before visiting a store. They may want to read reviews to see what other customers think of the product and contribute their own once they make a purchase.

They may want to ask detailed questions before making a purchase or even ask about it when they are in-store, using the app on their phone rather than taking the time to find a sales assistant.

There is no real distinction between in-store and online today – smart retailers know that they can leverage technology to create a single omnichannel. This is where the online options blend with the chain of retail stores to create a retail experience that is designed to meet the requirements of each individual customer.

It’s exciting to watch this play out because it means many different technologies are merging – CRM and ERP. Supply chain and logistics. Virtual contact centers that can operate across a dozen different communication channels. Everything is changing.

A customer today that walks into a store carrying their phone with the app for that store should be able to get customized offers designed personally for that individual  – in real-time as they walk the aisles.

Online and in-store retail is blending together and it is the technology leverage described in the Home Depot annual report that is driving the entire industry.

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