Did you blink and miss it? The cloud has taken over the retail world.
First off, let’s talk about the definition of "the cloud." It’s not a physical thing, so it’s hard to imagine what makes it function. Essentially, the cloud is a massive network of servers that have memory and storage spread out all across the world. Your data goes there, software is run using those servers and billions of people access it every day – even if they don’t know it.
Let’s say, for example, you’re shopping for furniture and take a picture of a chair you’ve got your eye on. That picture is stored on the device in your hand. But if you upload that picture to Instagram, Pinterest or tweet it to a friend, then you’ve sent that picture to the cloud. It’s now stored on the network of servers across the world.
How will the cloud change your retail experience?
If you’re out shopping, then the cloud could bring a more seamless experience when you’re searching for the perfect item. And it could mean that sales staff will be better prepared to assist.
Retailers can outfit their stores with devices connected to the cloud that can access real-time information like inventory levels, fit of clothing, colour and fabric options, technical specs and beyond.
Business.com explains that interactions between staff and consumers have improved thanks to cloud services and devices that retailers have at the ready.
“Imagine a life when you are out shopping and you don’t have to go into the dressing rooms just to check if the clothing fits you, because the clerk is equipped with a mobile device that confirms if the size and style of that clothing is right for you.”
With a higher adoption of these types of devices, retailers will also start to enjoy lower costs to access such services, and IT departments will reap the benefits of improved technologies.
“With low-cost development tools required in implementing cloud technology (as well as maintenance), retailers can use it to reduce spending. Pete Marsden, Chief Information Officer of Asos, said the company does not have to keep buying new equipment because of the use of cloud technologies.”
“Moving to cloud technology also allows retailers to save money on server maintenance. Given that retailers have some of the lowest budgets among all industries, they can use that budget for other things, such as opening a new store, taking on more employees and paying attention to the business itself.”
Having instant access to information
Retailers and consumers alike demand instant access to information – from images and videos to spec sheets and reviews. And the cloud offers a faster solution to access a never-ending source of information at your fingertips.
Always at the tech forefront, Google’s Cloud Platform touts its ability to help retailers stay connected with their customers. With many retailers having already turned to Google products for email, file sharing and storage, this adds another component to their toolkit.
“Customers today engage on their own terms. Regardless of device, part of day, or bandwidth, users expect to browse rich imagery and video instantaneously with no lag. Failing to scale under load and fluctuating usage patterns means missed revenue, lost customers, and damage to brands.”
They also tout their ability to scale up and down to meet seasonal demands – a major concern for most retailers, especially for brick-and-mortar locations.
Embracing the Omni-Channel Experience
But most consumers these days shop in a multitude of ways at once, both online and in traditional stores. This is called the “omni-channel” experience.
Consumers will be standing in a retail location and browsing the store’s website with their smartphone in one hand and a physical flyer in the other. And their kids will be accessing the store’s Wi-Fi to get more info on a product or tagging themselves on Facebook – but more likely sending a snap on Snapchat.
Retailers need to be at the ready to offer this experience.
Accenture reports that over 70 per cent of retailers don’t feel ready to offer this experience yet. And that’s a missed opportunity.
According to an Infosys survey, 78 per cent of consumers would be more likely to purchase from a retailer again if they targeted offers to their interests. By tailoring a shopping experience to the customer, both online and offline, a retailer can connect their brand to a positive experience. In addition, 86 per cent of customers would pay 25 per cent more for an overall better experience.
Now that’s a reason to improve the shopping experience. And what better place to start than up in the cloud.
Illustration by Winnipeg-based illustrator, Erica Glasier.
About the Author
Mark has been developing digital blog communities for 10+ years that connect business and tech pros with their inspirational stories. He developed a North American best practice on creating great experiences on social networks and spends as much time learning about entrepreneur success stories as he does producing content for others to enjoy. Mark is also a commercial photographer focusing on product and location images. His work can be seen at Wonderlab Photo.Follow on Twitter More Content by Mark Glucki