Basha Pillay, Modern Platform Business Unit Lead at Altron Karabina
The retail environment has come under increasing pressure given both the challenging economic environment and increasingly sophisticated customers who are looking for an integrated digital experience. This requires a rethink on how best to create an enhanced customer experience while also improving operations from a process perspective.
This is where an Agile mindset can play an instrumental role in harnessing insights from the wealth of data available to retailers and packaging it in innovative apps able to rapidly adapt to a continuously evolving market.
In recent months, there has been a surge in online shopping in South Africa with many consumers opting to stay at home rather than running the risk of potential infection at a retail outlet. Low code solutions such as Microsoft Power Platform can certainly help to reinvent not only the e-commerce experience but the brick-and-mortar one as well.
For the former, retailers can develop a virtual agent user Power Virtual Agents to assist those new to online shopping and create both a sense of trust and ease of use. This could very well be a key differentiator in creating a unique experience and delighting the customer. Furthermore, it can easily be extended throughout the online shopping value chain.
By integrating customer insights into a CRM system and giving key employees visibility of this through solutions like Power BI, the logistics process can be significantly enhanced. Being able to leverage the likes of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to identify the most effective way of getting the product to the end-user, either by delivery or for collection at the store, can result in optimising a process that might have been neglected during pre-pandemic times.
To further enhance the online experience, the virtual agent can assist in processing the order by using elements like a QR code to authenticate the purchase in-store and schedule a time when the customer can collect the product at the outlet most convenient for them.
From an in-store perspective, Power Apps can easily be customised to reinvent the environment. For example, a visitor registration app developed by Altron Karabina that incorporates Azure facial recognition technology can be tweaked to verify the details of an online transaction when a customer enters a store, perform a thermal scan of the customer to see if they do not have a fever, facilitate the collection of good and enhancing the experience as much as possible.
By now, retailers would have realised that it is vital to pivot as circumstances change. They must ensure they put in place a culture open to adaptation and have systems that can accommodate the need to quickly reinvent themselves. Part of this could entail establishing a centre of excellence inside the organisation through which apps can be developed in a more agile manner by Citizen Developers. The best apps are the ones developed by those closest to the business problem. In fact, enabling a culture of citizen developers (where customers provide the feedback necessary to help guide the reinvention) will be critical for future success in this uncertain market.
Furthermore, retailers must be flexible in allowing product and application ideas to evolve. By starting small and gradually iterating changes as circumstances dictate is a much easier undertaking than trying to reinvent the wheel.
Becoming an agile focused business will contribute to the success of retailers as they re-imagine the roles they need to fulfil in the new normal.