By Jane Thomson, Managing Director at EOH Infor Services (formerly Softworx)
Infor’s Master Partner in Africa, operating as a Gold Partner

Competition in retail has always been intense. Surviving, let alone thriving, requires heavy technology spend. In the modern retail era, customers have all the power.

Phones and digital devices serve as entry points into shopping experiences. At the click of a button, consumers have access to unlimited product assortments, price transparency, inventory availability, and crowdsourced ratings on product quality and customer service. This boom in e-commerce presents consumers with an immense amount of options that are no longer restricted by geographical location, causing a spike in competition for every business.

With this power shift to consumers, retailers are looking to keep up with the accelerating pace of technological change impacting their business models. Investments in unified commerce platforms, machine learning forecasting and supply chain visibility are exploding.

These investments are reactive, but retailers must be proactive to get ahead of consumers. Here’s how…

Start by Leveraging the Cloud

Moving to modern, cloud-native platforms will keep retailers current by providing them with real-time data to drive decision making. The benefits include:

  • Information housed in the cloud, avoiding limited time and resources required to maintain outdated legacy systems
  • Leveraging network data, creating a complete and meaningful basis for reporting and analytics
  • Keep all data in a cloud accessible from anywhere
  • Gain a holistic view of operations and ensure all departments are aligned by working from the same set of information

Realise AI is Here to Stay

Retailers that invest in modern cloud platforms and connected intelligence are also primed to reap the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI). This technology allows companies to glean actionable insights from unstructured data and has the potential to automate many of the routine business processes prone to human error. AI can handle processes like:

  • Counting inventory
  • Keep track of items currently in stock
  • Optimise decision making

Let Technology Maximise Human Potential

What’s less obvious and less discussed is perhaps the biggest opportunity lying in a retailer’s future: the power of AI to unleash human potential. It’s obvious that changes in technology impact business models, but what about the nature of employee tasks when business models change so drastically?

When AI reduces errors, facilitates successful transactions, and improves execution, it frees in-store associates of the mundane work normally associated with “entry level” jobs. More of their time can and will be devoted to higher-value and enriching tasks aimed at bettering customer engagement.

Yes, consumers have the power, but every employee is also a consumer, exposed to the same experiences and inclinations. There’s parity of position, equivalence and relatability in these employee-customer interactions that’s lacking digitally. Online convenience, subscription deliveries and chatbots have their role, but deep-down customers and employees still value the human connection present at the heart of shopping. There’s an opportunity here for retailers to continue to surprise and delight their customers via personable employees.

As power continues to shift from retailers to consumers, businesses must adapt to meet shopper demands and remain competitive.


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