Improve the Holiday Shopping Experience With a Stronger IT Infrastructure
At the top of many retailers’ holiday wish lists is the desire to create a smooth experience that would allow customers to shop seamlessly across online, mobile and other digital channels, as well as inside physical stores.
Why IT Infrastructure?
To succeed, it is vital that retailers get their IT infrastructure up to date and ready to support shoppers throughout the busy holiday season and beyond. However, according to a recent study by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, most retailers aren’t quite there yet.
According to Sarah Diamond, the general manager of IBM Global Business Services, the study found that “retailers may not be doing enough to meet consumer expectations shaped by digital experiences outside of retail, from location-based services to preference-based apps. The good news is that this gap also indicates the potential of growth for retailers who can meet those consumer expectations.”
Ignoring the health of your IT infrastructure can have dire consequences for your brand. For example, if your brand is fast and modern, how would it look to have a mobile experience that is slow or inaccessible to customers? Or if your brand conveys trustworthiness, what would happen if your network and customer data was compromised? To prevent this, retailers today must reconcile the fact that the empowered, technologically savvy consumer demands a better-performing IT infrastructure as part of the shopping experience.
How to Support Customers
So what IT infrastructure needs should retailers have in place to support consumers season over season and year after year?
- Good IT infrastructure must allow front and back ends to talk to one another. A robust IT infrastructure doesn’t ignore important back-office functions that enable retailers to improve the shopper’s experience. For example, an in-store shopper can look for a product on a mobile device, and a store with a healthy IT infrastructure would be able to immediately convey how many items are in stock and which aisle or section they are located in.
- IT infrastructure should support retailers in better understanding customers and identifying key changes or trends. To do so, retailers must have the capability to analyze customer data from a variety of sources.
- A strong IT infrastructure should be ready for the cloud. Whether public or private, a cloud-based infrastructure increases efficiency and frees up resources. Moving to the cloud can help retailers improve network speed, reliability and security, thereby enhancing customers’ mobile and online shopping experience.
- Finally, a retailer’s IT infrastructure must be secure in order to protect vital data from cyberattacks that could leave the organization and its customers vulnerable.
What Should Retailers Know?
When considering IT infrastructure, retailers should be sure to keep a few key takeaways in mind. These lessons can impact how you go about planning for, building and monitoring infrastructure.
- Everything affects your brand. The store and its infrastructure must support and enhance, not detract from, the brand image being projected to the consumer. If your infrastructure is slow, unreliable or insecure, beef it up so that your customers online and in-store get the experience they expect from your brand.
- Outsource as necessary. Retail executives must clearly delineate where the investment of core IT competencies resides and consider outsourcing infrastructure tasks that aren’t worth internal resource investment, such as implementing and managing the store networks and other store rollouts.
- Test and adapt. A store’s IT infrastructure should be tested on a routine basis to verify that it always supports the retailer’s efforts to achieve a customer experience that meets the objectives of the merchandising plan and brand image. Again, this might be an area where an outside expert can help by making routine testing and upgrades a part of regular business operations.
An IT infrastructure that handles mobile and online e-commerce is just as important as any major merchandising delivery system in the store. It must be tailored to the type of retailer you want to be in the marketplace and must change as your environment and objectives do. Just like obsolete merchandise displays will hurt your brand image, a poorly performing IT infrastructure will do the same.