This article is part of Raydiant’s new Future of Retail series which interviews the world’s leading retail experts to better understand how the industry has evolved and most importantly, where it’s headed.
The following is from an interview with Oksana Sokolovsky, Founder of ROAR
**This interview was conducted prior to the Coronavirus outbreak**
What personally excites you the most about the retail industry?
OS: Retail is the HEART of the US and the worldwide economy. People shop retail from Groceries to Pharmacies to Designers and Boutiques. Product quality, price, customer service, experience, and personalization are the 5 pillars of retail. The ongoing transformation in these 5 pillars of retail continues in order to drive consumer engagement, loyalty, revenue increase. The retail industry has to stay focused on customers. Retailers who are making customers as their focal point from experience to purchase to post-purchase service with the right blend of digitalization are the ones that are going to be around for a very long time. What personally excites me about the retail industry is the plethora of opportunities to innovate and constantly identify improvements to drive the transformation of the retail. It’s exciting to be part of the industry where the impact of innovation is directly experienced by the consumer who in turn provides almost instant feedback through consumer behavior.
What has been the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry over the past 3-5 years?
OS: Over the past 3-5 years, transition to customer focus, sustainability, new digital payment systems and methods, virtual try-ons, digitalization of in-store experience, flexible purchasing and return options, improvements in online digital shopping experience are few areas that come to mind. But there are many more of course. Retail is changing every day and some of the innovation by one retailer becomes an almost assumed expectation for all others.
However, to be the customer focus is the most exciting change I personally have seen and believe in. Streamlining the supply chain management, creating a more digital in store experience, improving the quality of fresh food/ organics, new packaging methodologies that drive sustainability are ever-evolving. Of course, the consumer is a lot more educated and is well versed in a variety of available options and therefore the simplicity and accuracy of the information throughout the retail experience is a very important area of focus and something I have seen change over the last few years. Reviews and Recommendations have become a norm and an expectation and also evolved, especially with the social media taking a front and center of our social life. Consumers will share reviews and recommend products using their own social media accounts and they will also use the same channels to critique. So the retailers have been focusing on the quality of products and services understanding that marketing is not only in their hands now, it’s in the hands of a real consumer. That’s one of the biggest changes we have also seen in retail. Consumers can help retailers grow organically but they can also impact retails reputation negatively
What are the top trends you see shaping brick and mortar retail in the next 3-5 years?
OS: I believe that there are few trends that will shape brick and mortar retail over the next years – digitalization, customer engagement, leverage of the social media, personalization of product choices based on various AI models. The solutions that will allow for customers to make the decision easier as well as more digitally immersive retail experience will be important in order to engage with customers at the next level. Customers have a lot of choices and creating an environment in which customers can have a feeling of owning the product before buying it, will be the main differentiating features of retailers that take the customer journey to a whole different level of engagement. Focusing on the digital transformation of in-store experience will be one of the main areas of focus for most retailers. This can help them not only engage consumers but to learn consumer behavior based on real data and to drive improvements in experience based on in-store data analytics. Imagine if the customer can interact with in-store inventory and based on this interaction, retailers know how to better stock up the supply or what are the customer preferences so that retailers can in-store navigate the consumer to his product of choice. Wouldn’t that be cool?
What technology do you believe will have the biggest impact on the retail industry in the next 3-5?
OS: I believe that Augmented reality (AR) with Artificial intelligence (AI) will have a significant impact on the retail industry. It has the ingredients and the potential. AR can enable retailers to create immersive, engaging consumer experience and can enable retailers with data analytics related to consumer choices, behavior, engagement. This data, in turn, can drive further improvements in engagement itself. Think of a scenario where the personalization and recommendation will be done based on various AI technologies with Augmented Reality (AR) content which will let customers explore products and immerse into product information when they shop and when they purchase. Customers can make more educated and faster decisions resulting in higher revenue, loyalty and lower return rates. Using AR, retailers can also provide customers with significant knowledge related to packaging and sustainability and help consumers make decisions that enhance sustainability efforts.
What’s the future of brick and mortar retail?
OS: Brick and Mortar is not going anywhere, it’s here to stay, improve, innovate. Today, 85-90% of shopping happens in brick and mortar and with the digital transformation of retail experience, brick and mortar can blossom more and more. While online shopping potentially creates opportunities for more competitive pricing and hands off approach, people do like going to stores for not only shopping experience but also to be around other people, to walk through the isles, to eat in a great restaurant and to feel good. People do want more than just buying, they want attention and interaction and brick and mortar experience provides that. The BnM stores that can bring intense digital experiences to the customers for their education, decision making, personalization, and customer service are the ones that will rise above the online stores as customers do need that interaction, personalization, and engagement. Creating a digitally-powered and immersive experience in the store coupled with amazing customer services and personalization capabilities is the new Brick and Mortar future.