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Whenever I hear that retailers are struggling to deliver better customer experiences, the old saying always comes to mind … Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

Why? Because in retail there is more opportunity to collect a vast and deep ocean of data about consumers than in most other industries, yet retailers find it difficult to learn about and engage their customers in new and innovative ways.

Technology is certainly not the problem. Retailers can see and save everything shoppers do online. The challenge is to quickly turn the data into useful and actionable information.

At Retail’s Big Show 2014, hosted by the NRF, leading retailers from around the world talked about the most pressing business and technology trends and challenges they are faced with today.

Customers Move Fast

Retailers work hard to identify buying behaviors and predict what consumers will want next. But customers aren't easy to keep up with these days. They are shopping in store and online at the same time and expect a high quality experience and service level regardless of the channel.

“We are trying to follow a quick-moving audience,” said Matthiew Ballast, IT Manager at the Switzerland based fashion brand Tally Weijl.

That means retailers need an omnichannel commerce strategy. They need systems that will centralize customer data and pull together mobile, Web, and in-store sales transactions.

“One of our biggest challenges at the moment is to build a centralized customer database across all our systems so we are able to track a customer between e-commerce, the shops, and so on,” said Ballast.

Mobile and Big Data Surge Ahead

The rapid rise of mobile technology is also forcing change. Few retailers have been able to keep pace with the mobile and social consumer, and even fewer have managed to innovate ahead of the curve.

“We are witnessing fierce competition between our offline and online platforms. In the future, we will certainly be focusing on an approach that combines both online and offline business,” said Lu Yifan, CIO at Hong Kong based Gome Electronics.

Pulling together customer, transaction, and operational data from all consumer channels and touch points becomes a Big Data challenge for any sized retailer. Making the information available in real-time and activating predictive analytics is even harder. Retailers are turning to integrated solutions backed by high-performance in-memory databases to make it happen.

Having a solid omnichannel commerce platform in place is also pivotal to delivering a consistent and integrated customer experience. “We chose SAP as our core framework software. The system has led to huge improvements throughout our whole operation, including increased effectiveness, functionality, and efficiency,” said Yifan.

Check out this video to hear more from these leading retailers and others.

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