We spoke with the Retail Miss Fix-It, Nancy Georges, about the changes happening in retail and how technology can act as a positive force for the industry. George reinforces the notion that Australian retailers are falling behind with technology and they put themselves at risk for failing to consider the changing behaviour of customers.
Robbie Kruger (RK): Nancy, you've been consulting with various sized retailers for many years. Tell us what you see as the greatest technological challenges facing retail businesses today in Australia?
Nancy Georges (NG):
Can I just say that in my mind issues for retailers are issues for small businesses. I have been saying for quite a while; retailers must think and act like businesses and businesses must realise that today's customer is going to interact with them in the same way as they do with anyone they are giving their money to - like a consumer - so they have to think like retailers.
There are so many things that are challenges for retailers around technology:
RK: Transaction management is crucial to success in retail. What resources are needed for retail businesses to achieve efficiency gains in transaction management?
NG: Education first and foremost of the tools available and then the ability to assess a solution that fits their business.
Transactions need to be quick, easy, effortless and an organic part of the sales conversation - not the roadblock / hurdle / issue they often are in real life.
RK: Online selling is the focus for growth for so many retail businesses. Given the size of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US, are Australian businesses falling behind with online sales?
NG: Yes simply because they are not in the online space at all - websites or social media. Less than 40% of retailers have a website. They have to be in it to get it!
I must say that online presence is not just for selling, it is so that the customer can interact, learn, research, purchase, do whatever they want in the absence of being in the physical store - when and where they want.
I think businesses who aren't online are unintentionally telling their customers that they don't care what the customer wants and what the market expects...at their own peril.
These types of sales make sense in a healthy retail environment when certain products are marked for clearing or selling - an old school sale - not as a desperate slash and dash that it is now. They are short sighted and very bad for the industry!!
RK: The Optus Future of Business Retail Report identified that social media is likely to see 700% growth in contribution to retail sales in the next 3-5 years. What skills are needed among retail firms to ensure that they can meet this growth?
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NG: Purely and simply success in social media requires skills in;
RK: Is there anything in the Future of Business Retail Report that particularly
NG: I think it is all interesting as it talks about the short term future and incorporates all elements of online and bricks and mortar. I would like to see this shared, communicated and analysed with retailers in a way that provides insights that help them develop their businesses.
I also think that consumers' and businesses' expectations are still short of what marketing communication and digital experts are telling us about mobile and social media. This highlights that we cannot simply develop our businesses and behaviour in line with what we think or our customer tells us.
RK: Finally, how important do you think an integrated online and offline experience is for retail businesses in Australia?
NG: Absolutely essential!! Those who ignore it will not survive, simple as that.
Retail has changed because our customers' expectations and behaviours have changed. Customers want and expect to interact with a business off and online when and where they want them. If they are not there they will search for another one that is and not come back - or be much harder to entice back. The customer expects to be communicated to in a non-sales oriented, human way by every business they interact with and ultimately spend their hard earned cash with.
This is another edition in the series of Q&A sessions with business leaders and experts. If you'd like to be involved in a Q&A session with Optus Business, get in touch with us at @Optusbusiness on twitter or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Robbie Kruger, Optus Business Industry Manager. More from Robbie on Twitter: @RobbieKruger