Industry leaders from Amazon, Microsoft and Zebra Technologies weigh in on the tech trends impacting the future of retail

With the fast-changing environment of digitalisation and customer demands, retailers must find new ways to evolve alongside technological trends to remain competitive.

The way we used to work and live has unexpectedly been changed by technology, particularly in the shift to a hybrid shopping lifestyle that has become more prominent since the pandemic.

Online shopping is here to stay, even as customers across the globe are also moving back to in-store shopping. Unsurprisingly, customers are looking for greater convenience, value, and engagement through their shopping experiences, and businesses should take advantage of this to expand their reach beyond geographical borders.

To gain an insider’s perspective on upcoming trends and technologies that retailers need to take note of, Retail Asia caught up with three industry leaders – George Pepes, APAC Vertical Solutions and Marketing Lead for Retail, Healthcare, and Hospitality at Zebra Technologies, Jan Lim, Country Manager for Singapore Marketplace at Amazon, and Harsha Illindala, Industry Advocate Director, World Wide Retail & Consumer Goods.

Retail Asia talked to Lim, Pepes and Illindala to learn more about their thoughts on how businesses can adapt to the expanding use of technology within the industry and the strategies retailers can focus on for more effective customer engagement.

Adapting to changes in retail

Retail decision-makers have recognised the pressing need to blend in-person shopping with online experiences to ensure continued success. As such, they also have to ascertain that they can deliver quality customer experiences tailored to various shopping preferences.

Amidst labour shortages, supply chain challenges, and the economy, they also need to accommodate expectations for seamless shopping experiences for in-person and online shoppers. Pepes noted: “It’s safe to say that the customer will remain in the driver's seat in the future of retail, therefore retailers will have to be quick-thinking to keep up with these changing preferences.

Illindala notes how Retail in Asia is going through a challenging yet exciting period, with retailers responding with more efficient offers and lower costs as end customers deal with rising interest rates and inflationary pressures. He also noted that at the same time, leading retailers are using this period to further invest and grow their strengths – like build more cost effective supply chains and stores. 

For small-and-medium-sized businesses (SMBs), their long-term growth should be targeted towards building a sustainable online presence and digital engagement with their customers. This connection can be further solidified by ensuring the privacy and security of consumers' data, which is of great priority. This is especially true since customers trust businesses will use and share their information sensibly for smooth operations and improved services, as pointed out by Lim.

Meanwhile, one way for retailers to ensure that they can keep up with new technologies is by constantly upskilling their workforce. This is a lifelong journey for any retail business, which starts by knowing which skills need to be prioritised to tackle specific challenges and immediate growth plans.

Lim said that upskilling staff should start in areas that deliver the "greatest impact." In the case of small businesses, it is wisest to take advantage of any available resources and support from partners and service providers. Examples of this are educational resources offered by e-commerce platforms like Amazon, such as the Seller University and The Seller Forum, amongst others.

Leveraging technologies to improve customer satisfaction

Using advanced technologies has become a necessity for businesses, especially those seeking to align with the purchasing habits of both current and future customers. Customers see these advancements, specifically online shopping, as a safe and more convenient way to see as many options as possible. This means there is also a greater demand for sellers to maintain an online presence to grow their customer base.

Retail associates and shoppers have an expectation for the retail environment to match the technological advancements they have in everyday life. Technology can be advantageous to both retailers and customers if it can be leveraged to understand consumer behaviour.

Leveraging data is another key aspect for retailers. Illindala shared, “At Microsoft, our ambition is to empower the retail industry to seamlessly connect their customers, their associates, and their data. Our goal is to help retailers realise the true value of retailer data at scale by bringing together data sources, and adding intelligence that enriches and connects core business processes in a secure environment.”

On the e-commerce end, Lim highlighted bag brand Petite Simone as an example of benefitting from data insights, noting that the platform's readily-available tools, as well as immediate customer reviews and feedback, have helped the brand enjoy growth in sales and develop new designs at a faster pace. At the same time, Amazon is able to help retailers leverage such data to identify product demand gaps, review competitive gaps in offerings, and increase potential sales of selected products – all through new tech features such as the Product Opportunity Explorer.

Technology has served retailers in the inventory aspect as well. Whilst 7 out of 10 consumers prefer to shop online with retailers that have brick-and-mortar stores, based on studies conducted by Zebra Technologies, there is a critical need for these retailers to ensure they have the right inventory, at the right price, location, and time. True enough, with shoppers' preferences shifting to blended retail channels, retailers are now relying on hardware that can provide real-time inventory visibility such as RFID, so they can stay on top of such challenges, Pepes pointed out. 

Illindala said, “Asian retailers continue to invest in customer experience across channels, even in a challenging environment. Retailers that had more robust fulfilment capabilities consistently experienced better scores from their customers. This led to greater investments in supply chain, automated picking and other such innovations, whilst in-store, this has resulted in easier checkouts with product recognition using smart video, frictionless purchase experiences, efficiency in store operations as well as innovative areas like gamification. 

In addition to supply chain benefits, technology can also transform associates into "empowered knowledge workers” according to Pepes. Retailers can also address concerns about finding and retaining staff by using the right technology, to ensure that they can complete critical tasks as efficiently as possible. This can free up associates to have more face-time with customers, resulting in a better shopping experience.

"Decision-makers know just how important technology can be for generating positive customer sentiment and increasing workforce retention," said Pepes.

However, a critical component to successfully adapting technological offerings into one’s business falls on a reliable and trustworthy experience, said Lim. Aside from responsible usage of consumer data, retailers need to ensure that they offer authentic goods and are taking action against counterfeit products. SMBs can fulfil this by selling on or with customer-trusted providers that help reinforce their brand value when purchasing.

Lim highlighted that on top of quality shopping and delivery experiences, retailers must present customers with buying opportunities, sales events, and after-sales support to ascertain they can offer continued quality and valuable services.

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