Uber, Netflix, Airbnb and some of the other business disruptors in recent years have at least one thing in common–each of them have redefined customer convenience. The idea of empowering the customer to get whatever they want, whenever and wherever, has now gained traction in retail too.
If that’s the Holy Grail of next-generation retailing, then how will it be made possible? How can retailers transition from provisioning the traditional high- to medium-touch shopping experience to a zero-touch one, and deliver superior customer convenience? Well, the answer lies in significantly automating the buying experience by leveraging the emerging convergence of operational technology and IT–or, simply hardware and software.
With multiple operational technology (OT) devices activated now in every store–including RFID tags, cameras, and beacons–retailers can integrate data generated at these touch points with that emanating from different IT applications. Indeed, they have a major opportunity to use IT and OT, spanning mobile apps, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), deep learning algorithms, data analytics, geofencing, and sensor fusion, in tandem.
This IT-OT convergence is a disruptive trend that is beginning to reshape retail like never before. Unlike a few years ago when these technologies functioned in silos, some innovative retailers have already begun integrating the two to reimagine the customer experience, and boost convenience. Be it enabling auto-identification of items for shoppers, or automating the shopping list based on an analysis of previous transactions, IT-OT convergence is truly transforming retail as we have known it.
For instance, customers can now record their grocery lists on “smart” home devices, such as Alexa and Google Home, which, in turn, can be synched with retailers’ IT OT via mobile apps. Once buyers walk into the store, they need not read from the grocery list, and look for items anymore–instead, the app or store beacon will recommend the most optimal route for the customer. What’s more? It will also offer suggestions on comparable brands and discounting depending on whether he is a member of the retailer’s loyalty program or not.
This example highlights the immense potential for retailers to activate frictionless, zero-touch shopping for their customers using IT-OT convergence, thereby, delivering best-in-class customer experience. And, one major enabler of that activation can be building the “Digital Twin” of the customer, i.e. creating a high-integrity, data-driven, three-dimensional simulation of the buyer.
Apart from helping retailers identify shoppers in a zero-touch environment, the digital twin can empower–via analytics, IoT, etc.–merchants to contextualize real-time data from IT OT convergence for personalizing recommendations.
Moving from transaction mindset to sustained engagement
The most important driver behind the emergence of digital twins in retail is the industry’s transition from transaction-oriented interactions to engagements throughout the customer relationship lifecycle. Merchants realize that the typical consumer’s buying journey is no longer confined to merely visiting a physical or digital store, or placing an order. Instead, the buying journey in the on-demand era of instant gratification involves many different mini journeys, each centered around a distinct consumer need.
Digital twins can deliver major benefits
So how can the industry smartly implement the digital twin concept to reap tangible business benefits? In two clear ways. One, retailers should integrate social media and transactional data with consumption data collected by IT OT devices, such as beacons, cameras, and smartphones. Doing so will enable retailers to forecast the timing and frequency of purchases by individual consumers. Moreover, they will be able to figure out the stage in the relationship lifecycle where they can provide the most value.
Second, retailers can leverage digital twins to optimize their customer engagement and outreach initiatives through smarter marketing. They could use the customer behavior-related insights generated from IT-OT data sets by AI to communicate in a personalized and proactive manner. For instance, customer A typically places his grocery order online on Fridays and picks it up from the nearby store on weekends. Now, the retailer could harness insights gleaned via digital twins to create his 360-degree profile, in terms of the categories he buys and in what volume, and accordingly send personalized promotional offers and discounts. These recommendations could help the customer fine-tune his shopping list for better value. What’s more, the merchant could also use such insights to facilitate quick pick-up at the store, by tracking the customer’s geo-location parameters.
Today’s digitally empowered customers are demanding personalized solutions from all of their vendors, and retailers are no different. Relevancy is going to be the main currency going forward, and retailers must harness IT-OT convergence intelligently to build unique digital twins of individual customers in order to understand them better. Doing so will not only pave the way for diversification of revenue streams and reduction in operating costs but also result in enhanced customer satisfaction.