“Cloud-first strategies are the foundation for staying relevant in a fast-paced world,” Ed Anderson, Research Vice President at Gartner.
There’s no doubt that the shape of the retail world has dramatically changed over the last decade. From how, when and where consumers spend their money to how businesses approach their day to day operations, much of the shopping experience has evolved as a direct result of advancing technology and the growing customer demands that drive it (see story).
Cloud computing is just one of the developments that has disrupted traditional shopping habits, but in a good way, providing substantial benefits for both consumers and retailers alike. Successfully strategized and used to its fullest capabilities, cloud computing has been shown to completely revolutionize the way in which any retail business can function. However, there aren’t currently very many providers that can offer mature cloud-based retail solutions that meet the vital reliability, flexibility, speed, and performance requirements of retailers.
Cloud Benefits for Consumers
The incorporation of digital technology into the retail environment has been rapidly gaining momentum as retailers recognize the opportunities it presents. One of the biggest benefits of cloud computing is that it has created new avenues with which to provide enhanced and valuable service to consumers. In fact, cloud computing is proving to be essential for meeting the primary requirement of shoppers today – a truly omnichannel retail experience.
Focusing on the customer
Great merchandise, quality customer service and competitive pricing are no longer enough to drive consumer engagement and loyalty. The possibilities offered by technology mean they want more at a higher standard. The ability to compare products and prices at the touch of a button, delivery to their preferred location on a day and time of their choosing and personalized promotions or offers are just some of the increasing demands that can make or break a consumer’s decision to purchase.
Personalization is the norm
Cloud computing can make all this – and more – not only possible, but straightforward. Using quality Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, comprehensive customer profiles can be updated in real time. Once enriched with insights from analytics, retailers can use these profiles to create highly personalized and customer-specific offers that are based on previous buying habits and have far greater conversion rates. Stored in the cloud, this information can be made readily available to in-store staff, ensuring that all promotions and discounts available can be applied during the transaction without the need for coupons or vouchers. Access to customer data can also provide sales teams with plenty of other information, including preferred stores or delivery options, loyalty rewards and more, all of which can be utilized to make the consumer feel valued and important (see story).
The unifying power of the cloud
It’s not just consumer information that can be stored in the cloud either. Detailed product, inventory and shipping data can also be saved, so that it’s accessible to staff at the touch of a button, allowing them to provide completely accurate information to shoppers regarding the product, stock levels and, if applicable, delivery options, again creating a highly personalized shopping experience.
Cloud Benefits for Retailers
Cloud computing is also good news for retailers in terms of their day to day activities. It allows for more streamlined business operations, which facilitates the direction of resources to other priorities such as innovation and growth.
Leveraging inventory regardless of where it resides
One of the best examples of this is inventory management. A serious drain on resources and finances for retailers, keeping fluid movement of stock and ensuring you have enough to fulfill customer demand is crucial, yet complicated using traditional systems. Non-cloud based retail systems must set aside considerable man-power for stock-takes and inventory control, which are at significant risk from human error. This is particularly the case when needing to consider stock levels across multiple locations and arrange even and adequate distribution.
However, cloud computing facilitates centralized real time inventory control, minimizing the need for time-consuming and error-riddled stock takes. It also streamlines flagging up low quantities, checking other locations for products and providing retailers with speed and agility when it comes to fulfilling customer orders. Stores can also double as distribution centers, using the inventory to ensure that products are sent out with speed and efficiency. This offers customers a far better and more valuable shopping experience. Cloud-based computing can also provide inventory management, analysis and planning capabilities to support the supply chain, ordering on schedule and decreasing overhead costs, wasted space and long-sitting inventory.
Freeing the POS from physical constraints
Retailers are also considering how to make the most of their physical store space to maximize product lines and create a free flow of traffic that ensures customers are directed to key areas within the store. Cloud-based point of sale systems are an ideal solution, removing the need for extensive counter tops and check-outs, and instead allowing the sales associate to complete transactions anywhere in the store. Approaching customers near their chosen product on the shop floor increases the possibility of closing the sale and eliminates the need for lineups, which is also beneficial for the shopper.
A POS platform that grows with you
The future is definitely cloud-based and another key benefit of this technology is scalability. A cloud-based POS will grow with your business, accommodating new stores, new employees and new product lines, with literally zero limitations. This also makes these POS solutions extremely cost-effective, as you can relax knowing that you won’t need to implement an expensive new system every time your business grows. In fact, you will only need to add your new information to the cloud POS and watch as it filters down into your business. Combined with powerful insights and analysis, it’s easy to see that an affordable investment in a cloud-based POS today is a big investment in future-proofing your enterprise.
Predictable subscription model
In the cloud computing model, also known as Software-as-a-Service, you don’t incur any direct infrastructure and on-going management costs for the software because they’re included in your monthly subscription fees. As a result, you’re able to concentrate on your core activity, free up cash flow, and reduce the time to payback.
The Key to The Future
There is little doubt that cloud computing will continue to develop and evolve as we head into the latter part of this decade, and an increasing number of retailers will need to embrace this technology in order to remain competitive, and provide their customers with that highly desirable connected retail experience.
Many of those that have already adopted cloud computing have done so through public clouds provided by third parties, and while this will continue to be the most viable option for mid-size businesses, large retailers may move towards private company-specific clouds, packed with their information and highly secured. There will also be an increasing number of third party providers offering complementary products and services that will further enhance both the capabilities of the store and the experience received by the consumer (see story).
Cloud computing will also continue to supply much of the manpower previously needed behind the scenes in the retail industry – customer files, reward systems, analytics, inventory management and more will all be taken out of manual hands. This will free up resources for the innovation that will certainly be required to deliver coherent, personalized shopping experiences in an unified commerce environment.