Retail 2021: Overcoming Digital Transformation Challenges to Help Prepare Your Business for the Future

Key Takeaways

  • Engaging, safe, and hygienic customer experiences can help encourage customers to return to retail spaces.

  • Touchless kiosks, in-store signage, and other building blocks can be customized to fit a variety of use cases.

  • Implement these experiences and manage inventory and customer flow with IoT and AI-based technologies to help staff better prioritize their time.



The sheer volume of computer vision, AI and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies available to retailers means that many innovation and operations managers are, understandably, faced with paralysis. Where are the best places to get started? Savvy retailers know that building and implementing a digital transformation roadmap to get ahead of their competitors is key to long-term success. Ultimately, retailers always aim to be one step ahead of their customers, and in today’s connected world, that means delivering innovative and experiential digital technologies.

This article explores what the retail arena looks like today – and lays out some of the opportunities for retailers who are exploring how they can invest now to add value over the next 12 months and beyond.

Challenge: Identifying Customer Needs More Effectively Through ‘Digital Demographics’

To identify and capitalize on new opportunities, consultancy Accenture says retailers need to be ‘identifying consumer needs before their competitors do – and potentially before consumers themselves do.'1

When put up against analytics-driven online competitors, how do businesses operating in brick-and-mortar locations achieve this? Smart retail solutions are often a good place to start.2 A combination of cameras, IoT devices and machine learning can give store operators insight into popular sections of the store, what shoppers do in-store, and how they interact with merchandise. This enables retailers to build a digital picture of their customers, and better target the products they include in-store. Heat mapping is an effective way to do this, while maintaining the privacy of customers. By understanding where your customers are spending the most time in-store, you can optimize the layout and learn more about which products are most popular.

Challenge: Making the Best Use of Workers’ Skills and Time

Digital transformation is changing the role of workers in a range of retail environments. 40 percent of retail executives say they expect most of their workforce will change roles due to advancements in technology.1 This creates a host of opportunities for savvy retailer leaders.

One example of this is an ‘eReceptionist’ system, which is designed to make managing visitors in service environments both digitized and traceable.3 Customers must confirm, for example, that they’ve read any safety instructions or disclaimers before they proceed with an appointment. For the retailer, this cloud-based solution means that attendance rates and other customizable metrics can be monitored remotely from a PC or mobile device. Visitors are guaranteed a consistent experience, and greater control over the information they review and approve.

In China and the United States, at least 75 percent of consumers reported trying a new shopping method since COVID-19 emerged.4 As a result, the attention – and purchasing power – of more customers could be available.

Challenge: Retaining and Growing Customer Loyalty

As the longstanding popularity of online shopping continues, and as the economy recovers from significant disruption in 2020, there is a risk that everyday habits and loyalties have been shaken. In China and the United States, at least 75 percent of consumers reported trying a new shopping method since COVID-19 emerged.4 As a result, the attention – and purchasing power – of more customers could be available.

Capitalizing on this pool of ‘floating customers’ will require retailers to offer many of the benefits shoppers enjoy online. In particular, personalized marketing, reliable stock levels and an engaging experience. Digital display systems are an effective way to do this. These signs can be used to adjust products and promotions based on a number of factors – for example, promoting umbrellas and coats if it’s raining outside.5 Signs embedded with artificial intelligence (AI) can also help ensure ads are tailored to the interests of specific customer segments.

AI can also be used to help manage inventory, with smart shelves quickly identifying common customer frustrations, such as out-of-stock items and pricing errors. Inventory robots then alert staff, who can quickly take action. This in turn frees up more of their time to focus on one of the key benefits of shopping in-store: personalized customer support, available instantly.