To See Retail’s Future, Go Back To The Basics

mobile shopping

The retail revolution will be digitized. But how to get to the revolution in the first place when you might already be too late?

Retailers face a tough slew of questions that must be answered even as the world becomes ever connected through the Internet of Things (IoT) and, of course, through mobile commerce. The brick-and-mortar model needs an update, stat.

Amazon Go, newly debuted by the eCommerce giant, shows the blurring of lines between the tangible and the digital, a consumer experience that stretches toward the seamless. You know the drill: with checkout done without checkout and consumer data galore that comes from the devices wielded by buyers.

Another recent announcement spotlights the confluence of connected devices and the IoT that can transform how we buy.

Wirecard last month announced a partnership with French firm SES-imagotag. Under that pairing, the two firms let consumers use mobile devices to “pay at the shelf” via digital price tags and Wirecard’s payment tech, with scanning done via QR code or near-field communication.

In an interview with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, Susanne Steidl, CPO at Wirecard, said her firm’s work with SES-imagotag reveals one step retail is taking toward the future.

“If I look at the processes in retail today, it’s like the 20th century — very old,” she told Webster. “There is a lot that can be streamlined and automated. It’s not for the sake of technology but for optimized consumer convenience.”

She noted that the automated checkout fostered by Wirecard and SES-imagotag — and where everything is paid through the app — is an experience that might not, at first, be familiar to consumers, “but once they have experienced it a few times, it will become normal … which makes it all much faster. You do not have to worry about the boring stuff. The formalities, such as queuing up in line, go away.”

Pegging Amazon Go as a harbinger of things to come, Webster asked Steidl what retailers must do to get ready for the next phase of commerce.

No one wants to be on the wrong side of technology — in effect offering bells and whistles no one wants. So, what Wirecard is doing with its retail clients is setting up shops that operate across a trial period.

“At the moment, there are still many questions on how consumers will accept [offerings such as checking out at the shelf], so they set up the first trials,” Steidl said. The trials offer retailers the ability to adapt so they can go into a mass rollout with minimal guesswork about end users’ embrace of new payment options. An optimal product mix helps, of course. “They try two shops with different products inside,” said Steidl, and “they see whether customers are coming back.”

Retailers face decisions all along the commerce value chain — across mobile and chatbots and any number of permutations —so a judicious allocation of investment dollars is warranted.

But before reaching the consumer-facing experience, infrastructure is key: the plumbing that works mostly behind the scenes.

To help retailers prioritize their roadmaps, Steidl said it’s often the case that, for decades, the systems for point of sale (POS) and eCommerce have been developed separately. They may have disparate enterprise resource planning systems or different payments systems.

“The entire IT landscape is disjointed,” she told Webster. Connectivity is key, and companies, said Steidl, “need to take the eCommerce experience and move it over to the POS and then adapt the IT systems accordingly.”

“For POS, it’s no longer that all the products must be available at a retail location and you want to take them home. Rather, it is … that consumers want to test something, to try it out and [for it to] be delivered two hours later to their home,” she said of the end goal that forces retailers to operate across brick-and-mortar, digital and delivery continuums.

To get there? Think of it as going back to the basics, Steidl told Webster. Retail executives must mull the need for physical stores and what role they want them to fulfill toward the customers. After having made that decision, systems need to be put in place to support any number of new (and not so new) functions.

The commitment of investment dollars and the need to answer those questions is “not really optional … just having a physical store requires huge capital expenditure, so firms must seriously consider what they want to achieve with it,” said Steidl.

She noted that some of the larger brands in retail, such as Versace and Tommy Hilfiger, have been among the more visible companies embracing omnichannel and the IoT.

“Making a decision means you need courage … not making a decision will lead to the retailer no longer being there,” Steidl emphasized.


New PYMNTS Report: The CFO’s Guide To Digitizing B2B Payments – August 2020 

The CFO’s Guide To Digitizing B2B Payments, a PYMNTS and Comdata collaboration, examines how companies are updating their AP approaches to protect their cash flows, support their vendors and enable their financial departments to operate remotely.