Five retail IT trends to watch in 2011

The shopping outlook for the holiday season seems to be positive. Online sales are expected to have a high single digit year-on-year growth like last year. The highlights have been better product assortment, lower prices, and good promotion strategies. As a result, cross-channel fulfillment and inventory optimization have become imperative to sustain business.

Here are the five big IT trends that will impact retailers in 2011:

In Store Experience: After being at the forefront of technology news for most of 2010, apart from the shopping app, tablet devices such as iPad remain relatively unexplored for the retail world. High-end retailers would look at providing a custom in-store experience for walk-in customers using these tablets. The usability of this tablet could be explored for the store associates/attendants for functionalities such as item search etc. Given the large screen of the tablets, it can prove to be extremely useful in providing a real life experience such as exhibiting products in various colors and viewing merchandise that is otherwise unavailable in stock.

Multi-Channel Fulfillment: Shopping across channels is available as order online and pick-up in store, or order in-store and get it shipped to a delivery address. Despite this becoming a norm in the retail industry, only a few have managed to master it. Thus, multi-channel fulfillment will form the point of convergence for providing a great shopping experience and customer retention, as well as the retailers’ own inventory optimization.

The existing approaches to fulfill this are:

  • Order online and in-store pick-up
  • Order in store and delivery at customer address

The retailers who have already successfully implemented these solutions could look at further optimization, such as a combination of both i.e. order online and ship-out from the store. This would reduce shelf life of in-store inventory.

Better Online Experience: Among the indicators of non-conversion of online sales, the most evident one is shopping cart abandonment. There are a few areas of improvement for retailers:

  • Better sorting, searching, and filtering: A majority of sites are still struggling to provide filtering while multi-options filtering is almost non-existent.
  • Multi-brand combination in single cart: Multi-brand retailers should be able to combine shopping carts across brands and apply promotion on the complete cart.
  • Clarity on Price and Delivery rate: Prices and delivery dates should be clearly marked with no ambiguity.
  • Payment Options: Payment should include more non-credit card options.
  • Return policies: Return policies should be clearly explained.
  • Check-out options: A buyer should be able to complete checkout without registering with the seller.

Planning and Forecasting: Profiling of each store and assortment planning are the key areas to optimize inventory in these times. Even though forecasting at the organizational level is pretty common, the implementation of the correct assortment mix at the store level becomes a challenge. In order to obtain better efficiency at the store level, retailers are likely to invest in new products or enhancements to their existing systems. This could range from systems to measure customer mix, customer behavior towards changing in price changes, and promotions in a particular month or quarter of the year.

Mobile Platform: The mobile platform has become an important channel for retailers with the much more advanced smartphone. Smartphone providers such as Apple, Blackberry, or Android have open platforms for development of software applications for their OS. Since mobile phones are discretionary points of spending, retailers are likely to cater to this need with their own shopping applications. These shopping apps are a low-cost investment and can quickly become a popular channel for shopping, provided they have ease of usability and offer hassle-free shopping.