3 Questions Retailers Should Ask Before Choosing New Tech

3 Questions Retailers Should Ask Before Choosing New Tech

by Gregory Ng

Posted on 11-17-2017

Choosing your next technology investment isn’t as simple as going with what’s popular.

Consider the rapid consumption of voice-controlled devices. Recent research finds that nearly a quarter of consumers (24%) own a voice-controlled device like Amazon Echo (16%) or Google Home (6%), and another 20% plan to purchase one in the next year. Zero UI devices aren’t just novelties, but are truly impacting the way consumers shop. In fact, one in five consumers (19%) have already made a voice purchase through Amazon Echo or another digital home assistant, and another third (33%) plan to do so in the next year.

However, this increase in popularity still doesn’t justify voice technologies as the perfect fit for all companies. When retailers get distracted by shiny objects, they ignore a foundational goal of every technology purchase—a solution that positively reinforces an envisioned customer experience.

So if you’re making investments based on allure alone, you’re likely making the wrong decisions. And here’s another challenge facing retailers that embrace new technology: Even if your brand gains attributable ROI from the investment, sometimes the cost and effort required to roll out that technology exceeds the rate of return.

In addition to weighing routine factors like budget and bottom lines, retailers must think critically about these three questions to make technology investments that put customers at the center.

1. Does this investment support and/or enhance the ideal customer journey? Does your business have a digital journey? If not, now’s the time to invest in mapping your digital journey.

Mapping out your ideal customer journey is a major primer to smart technology decisions. Too often, retailers get overwhelmed by sales people promoting any number of tech offerings. These solutions rarely match a retailer’s own maturity level, and it’s challenging to marry new technologies with existing e-commerce platforms, which many retailers have today.

Fortunately, if retailers first determine how they want customers to interact with their brands, it becomes easier to pinpoint the tech investments most capable of facilitating such experiences. This outside-in approach ensures that all technology decisions support the same strategic business roadmap, and it earns retailers a more holistic understanding of their existing technologies, desired experiences, and the investments required to bridge those gaps.

2. Is this investment sustainable in the long term? Retail decision makers are frequently enamored by a certain technology and ask questions about this investment in a vacuum. Such championing is admirable, but equally as short sighted.

For example, the director of e-commerce at a major retailer may spark interest in a new HR technology. While she asks smart questions about how this solution works and blends with her company’s existing platform, when it comes time to connect her IT department with the solution provider, it will quickly become apparent that the shiny object has won once again.

Decision makers must reliably chart out the additional operational and human resources required to not only implement new technologies, but to properly execute and sustain them long term. To ensure all variables are factored in prior to purchase, retailers must welcome all organizational players to technology investment conversions. For example, if a desired feature requires an updated methodology in customer care or is predicated on additional dashboard metrics, members of the customer service and IT teams must have a seat at the table.

3. Is this investment a champion of omnichannel commerce? Every department interacting with consumers must be aware of the new solutions—both how they alter the end-user experience and how that impacts their own departmental operations and goals.

To avoid siloes that result in a disjointed customer experience, retail stakeholders should make technology decisions together and communicate those decisions to their organization’s full omnichannel team. It’s important to note that communicating technology decisions isn’t the same as soliciting buy-in. Employee opinions are certainly to be heard, respected, and incorporated, but a single resistant team member should never stymie larger organizational improvements. Buy-in can be earned over time as retailers iterate upon new solutions, but awareness and consistent communications are the best first steps.

This is because when departments don’t talk to one another, they risk alienating customers with confusing and inconsistent interactions. We’ve all purchased something from a brand in store and then received an email advertising that very product a week later.

To consumers, every interaction with a retailer is the same. Whether in store, online, or social, all channels fall under the same umbrella, and consumers assume that employees at every interaction are equipped with the same information. Consumers rarely know the differences between a retailer’s internal departments, and even when they do there’s little sympathy to be found.

Again, retailers can rely on a strategic roadmap to avoid new technologies from becoming major operational and directional nightmares. Omnichannel alignment, when communicated internally, avoids duplicate efforts and bad investments. Democratizing technology to involve all affected parties is the goal, but it also demands more frequent and effective communication.

These three questions are not exhaustive, but they lay the foundation for more strategic tech investments. Likewise, asking these questions is not a one-time deal. Retailers must continuously revisit their existing solutions and future needs and evaluate progress against questions like these. Considering that some technology rollouts take months or even years, retailers must closely monitor their technology investments and correct deviation from the intended customer journey and brand promises.

Because while shiny is nice, happy customers and employees are always better.

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