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Ricky Tsui takes a look at the ways retailers are flipping CX on its head.

Constant upheaval is the norm in the retail sector today as e-commerce, m-commerce and omnichannel business models gain momentum.

Even so, the customer experience remains as important as ever, and this is where traditional retailers are using technology to gain an edge.

The retail scene in Asia Pacific is among the most dynamic in the world. Online and mobile commerce are hugely significant in China and Southeast Asia markets. At the same time, digital technologies like mobile payments and scan-and-go shopping are fast becoming part of the brick-and-mortar environment and the largest online players are now investing in offline stores. Many urban consumers enjoy shopping as a leisure activity with family and friends – and the very best shopping centre and stores have become destinations in their own right.

These shifts favor traditional retailers that are willing to embrace technology.

Telling an integrated brand story

Some of today’s most iconic retailers are using technology to help them reconnect with customers and tell their brand and product stories in an entertaining way. But instead of making the technology the hero, it is increasingly invisible. So, a customer may use an app to match cosmetics to their skin tone or try on clothing. They may access information about a product’s history and craftsmanship via augmented reality (AR) or be drawn into an AR game that leads them to explore a brand’s retail store. They may even be immersed in an in-store virtual reality (VR) experience that lets them try out furniture or a new car or learn how to complete a home improvement project.

Offering hyper-personalised experiences

New technologies also help retailers offer hyper-personalised and contextual experiences that were previously the preserve of luxury sales teams. Rather than relying on an expert salesperson to develop a relationship with a VIP customer over time, retailers are using artificial intelligence and big data analytics to better understand all their customers through their online and in-store behaviour. This allows retailers to make personalised product recommendations, organise relevant in-store product demonstrations and activities, and offer the right discounts at the right time.

By blending the human and the digital in this way, retailers can provide a better and more creative in-store experience that deepens customers’ emotional connection to the brand. As a result, many retailers are now seeing a reversal of the “showrooming” trend, with more customers now browsing online and buying in-store to enjoy truly tactile product experiences, expert advice, price-matching services and immediate pickup without shipping fees or delay.

Putting the right infrastructure in place

Putting these strategies into practice greatly increases technology deployment at stores and demands that retailers be more conscientious about network stability and scalability. It also requires more attention to overall cyber security, especially where Internet of Things (IoT) and smart building technologies exist on the same network as mission-critical point of sale applications with access to customer data.

A software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) infrastructure delivers the ability to dynamically route data traffic, rapidly deploy new store locations, and centralise network management for better security and improved total cost of ownership. It also lays the groundwork for combining emerging 5G wireless networks with SD-WAN to enable enhanced IoT capabilities and drive the next wave of retail change.

Ricky Tsui, Director, Strategy and Innovation, AT&T Global Business