In today’s increasingly digital world, brands cannot get away with delivering disconnected experiences to their customers, Paul Crerand, senior director solutions engineering EMEA, MuleSoft.
A seamless experience can be the difference between loyal and disinterested customers, and it can tip the scales when it comes to holding onto or losing a customer base. This rings particularly true in the retail sector, where recent research found that 60 percent of consumers would consider changing retailers as a result of receiving a disconnected experience.
Retailers are well aware of the significance of connected experiences, but despite this, many still seem to be missing the mark. Over half of consumers say the retailers they shop with provide a disconnected experience across channels, and this number has increased even since 2018. With retail customers most likely to vote with their feet and take their wallets elsewhere, brands need to work out a way to fix this connectivity problem. But what should they be prioritising?
Connected experiences: falling short
Despite hype around flashy new technologies like AR and VR reaching stores, consumers seem to place more value on retailers getting the basics right. For instance, an impressive 80 percent of consumers say that out of date or inaccurate data would make them more likely to shop with a different retailer next time. So, being able to provide information like stock availability and delivery tracking information in real time is clearly something consumers value.
However, retailers are currently struggling to deliver these ‘basics’ and, to make matters worse, they also appear to be falling short when it comes to introducing the ‘flashier’ innovations that have been the focus of much attention in the last few years. For instance, 40 percent of consumers said they haven’t seen technology innovations such as cashierless stores, queue-less POS, mobile-driven in-store experiences, personalised offers, interactive displays and AR/VR – at their local retail stores. This is despite a forecast from Gartner that this year, 100 million consumers will shop in AR online and in-store. So, why are so many retailers struggling to deliver the experiences that consumers crave?
The challenge of unifying data
Much of the challenge lies in the ways in which retailers store, integrate and harness their data. In order to create truly connected experiences, retailers need a unified view of each and every customer – from their shopping history, both offline and online, to their browsing preferences and their current location. Of course, it’s not as simple as just having this data; to add value, retail systems then need to be able to analyse it to provide real-time information, offers and suggestions as customers walk through their stores.
However, rolling this system out at scale for every single customer can be extremely difficult. This is because data is often stored in disparate silos across the entire business and so unifying it can be laborious and time-consuming. Often, by the time the data is all compiled in one place, it is already out of date and far less valuable for providing real-time insights. As a result, a connectivity chasm is created and retailers’ abilities to provide truly connected experiences are hindered.
Connectivity driven by APIs
So, how can retailers get around this issue and bridge the connectivity chasm? The key is API-led connectivity. Rather than taking on the painstaking task of pulling data out of siloes, retailers should instead use APIs to build application networks that unify connectivity and orchestration across their entire business. An application network allows data stores and assets to be connected, whether they’re located in the cloud, on-premises or in hybrid environments. This means that mobile applications, websites, IoT devices, point-of-sale, inventory and warehouse management systems can all be integrated seamlessly. Some brands are already using this approach to integrate applications and processes and scale globally. Sports retailer Decathlon, for example, built an application network to integrate its cloud-based order management system with a mobile POS and cashless payment process in an effort to enable a checkout-free shopping experience for participating customers.
With an application network, retailers can ensure greater accuracy, completeness, timeliness and consistency of customer data. In turn, this delivers customer insights that are easier to action and can be used to deliver truly connected as well as personalised experiences – something there is clearly an appetite for amongst consumers.
Crossing the chasm with APIs
By unifying connectivity and orchestration services through an API-led approach, retailers can finally drive the vision of seamless omnichannel experiences into a reality. Not only will brands be able to deliver personalised, connected experiences by fine tuning the ‘basics’, but they will also be more able and better positioned to focus on bringing new, futuristic technology into their stores to make the consumer experience even more immersive and keep customers returning for more.