There has been a huge disruption coming in retail over the past few years in the form of mobile technology; and it’s only just getting started. This isn’t solely about using mobile to engage consumers. Cloud-based technologies are breaking down traditional barriers and changing the way retailers do business. Separate systems for different areas of a business – like accounting, operations, online and in-store – are no longer adequate. The future is all about connectivity.
We’ve seen a tidal wave of new developments in retail recently, for example the increase in online shopping, click and collect, and customers demanding instant and easy access to products, which mean that the siloed approach simply isn’t the best way to run a business anymore. It’s important to remember that customers don’t see a difference between a brand’s online presence and their physical store. They expect the same level of service, the same brand feel, and the same shopping experience across every channel. So it’s important that every touchpoint, from sales to inventory tracking, loyalty programs and promotions, are completely in sync.
The growing app ecosystem
Achieving this kind of connectivity is becoming far easier, due to the rise of new cloud-based business applications. Just like the consumer apps we all use, such as for personal banking or Facebook, these business apps can be easily downloaded from an app store onto an iPad or mobile device. In this way, retailers can essentially build their own bespoke enterprise systems: from business management, to loyalty, finance, payments and analytics. They can pick and choose from a community of affordable, world-class business apps that integrate seamlessly with each other.
Soon, we can expect to see more and more retailers running their business entirely on apps. Retail apps like Vend can link directly to Xero for accounting and Yoco for payments for example, running on mobile devices like iPad to run an entire business on-the-go. These apps are creating complementary cloud and mobile software for retailers as part of a world-leading app ecosystem.
Uptake by local retailers
Independent retailers and pop-up shops, which aren’t held back by legacy systems, are already using this app ecosystem to better manage their business. For example, Nicholas Haralambous, founder of sockwear brand Nic Harry, has three stores between Cape Town and Johannesburg using Vend and Yoco. Adopting an integrated solution has allowed them to deliver a better customer experience.
“Working with Yoco through our Vend point of sale is simple and extremely efficient. Switching apps as we’ve had to do in the past wasn’t a sustainable way to complete transactions. Now with the Yoco/Vend integration the customer checkout process is seamless.”
Personalising the customer experience
With these new technologies, retailers will spend far less time on tasks which historically would have been done manually, such as balancing the books at the end of each week, or organising holiday schedules and staff rosters. But one of the biggest benefits of mobile technology is the way it enables a more personalised and seamless customer experience.
For example, linking a POS app with a specialist loyalty app means retailers can collate customer information and offer targeted rewards and perks to them directly via their smartphone. Or, integrating a store’s sales system with their online shop ensures that all inventory and customer data is synced across both channels. This prevents ‘double-sells’, where the last of a product is accidentally sold to two customers at once, and means all product and customer details can be easily managed from one central location.
To retail, and beyond
The speed at which cloud-based systems can be implemented will also be transformative, not just for retail but for many other industries. Setting up a new IT system is traditionally very time-consuming, and expensive – at least a few days for an expert to fully implement (not to mention the weeks of consultation beforehand). Now, with a few clicks of a button it can literally take around 10 minutes to set-up a business app and start selling. Cloud-based systems are also, by their nature, scaleable. They can grow with a business, without the need for costly hardware upgrades.
As these groups of connected, cloud-based systems are rapidly implemented by businesses, we will see a wave of revitalised IT systems across many other industries – from manufacturing, to transport, to finance. Faster, better, more transparent and personal services will become the norm in all parts of our lives. There’s never been a more exciting time to be in tech, and the best is yet to come.
Originally published on Africa Business