Making the Case for Technology Investments

Short-term calculations often imperil long-term growth.

Retail executives are no strangers to the annual “technology freeze,” a temporary hold placed on new investments, security tools or IT projects in preparation for the peak shopping – and returning – season. And while some industry experts say it’s a smart way to avoid rocking the boat during the industry’s busiest time, others argue that it makes retailers even more vulnerable to threats such as security breaches.

Regardless of which side you fall on, it’s undeniable that now, more than ever before, retailers need to consider their technology investments – especially given the growing problem of returns.

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Retailers should be prepared for the influx of site traffic they’ll receive throughout the winter months.

Forward-thinking companies with customer-friendly return policies will not only see a shopping peak in the fall due to holiday gifting, but also a large peak in late December and January due to returns.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that returns through the holiday season will hover around 13 percent, while the general return rate is roughly 11 percent.

From ensuring customer satisfaction to creating seamless shopping experiences, technology has a critical role to play in both the forward and reverse supply chain. But if you start thinking about it during peak shopping season, you’re too late.

Prepare for record digital traffic

First and foremost, retailers should be prepared for the influx of site traffic they’ll receive throughout the winter months. Last holiday season, e-commerce accounted for a record 10.6 percent of total retail sales in the U.S., according to eMarketer. And that number is only expected to climb.

To guarantee that your site is equipped for an unprecedented number of visitors, make sure to invest in a flexible, cloud-based hosting platform. This gives retailers the option to “auto-scale” when traffic picks up — a capability that makes it easy to automatically scale the system and increase the power behind a site.

Check now to see if you can take advantage of auto-scaling, and if not, make the change.

What’s more, these capabilities can’t just be in place for desktop and laptop experiences. Last year, Adobe reported that through early December, half of web traffic and 30 percent of retail sales came from mobile sites. But, mobile is just the beginning.

Consumer shopping behavior is changing, and your content and back-end needs to be optimized and prepared.

Ensure your digital experiences are easy and personal

While you’ve got a record number of people on your site, it’s important that the design is visually appealing and the layout is intuitive. Delivering a high-quality user experience — one that is not just beautiful, but more importantly, intuitive and easy to navigate — drives conversions.

But don’t focus on design alone.

Personalization technology can have a dramatic impact on sales — potentially increasing retailers’ revenues by as much as 6 percent.

Retailers want to consider whether the solution will personalize shopper experiences across platforms and devices, as well as whether it can adapt to changing consumer behavior in real-time. But again, if they don’t invest in this tech today, retailers risk running into bugs at the least opportune time.

Test now and witness the payoff later.

Invest in supply chain tech

The holiday shopping craze isn’t over until the last return is made. And even then, a whole lot goes on behind the scenes that requires best-of-breed supply chain technology. Just as total holiday retail sales hit $658 billion last year, nearly $70 billion of goods were returned.

What’s more, billions of pounds of that product is sent to US landfills, posing a major environmental threat.

To combat this, retailers must turn to innovative reverse logistics technology as a way to streamline processes and make for a more sustainable reverse supply chain.

Beyond the inevitable returns, inventory tracking and predictive analytics can help operations at large. Inventory tracking — at the unit level — gives retailers and manufacturers thorough, real-time knowledge of their online, in-store and supply chain inventory — even allowing them to know the exact location of their goods.

At the same time, predictive technology ensures that retailers can analyze data on the fly, adjusting supply chain operations to keep up with customer and inventory trends. Kroger, for instance, has created its own analytics unit, where data is used to help predict demand and make smarter merchandising decisions.

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Predictive technology ensures that retailers can analyze data on the fly, keeping up with customer trends.

With National Returns Day right around the corner, we’ve come to the final weeks when retailers can evaluate their digital strategy and technology investments.

Of course, there’s no way to know exactly how many consumers will shop on a mobile site or how many units of a particular product will be returned. But once retailers are in “freeze mode” there’s no turning back.

Think about what your current ecosystem of tools and solutions is capable of and address any remaining gaps now.

With the proper technology in place, it’s possible to not only deliver a cutting-edge e-commerce experience for shoppers, but also ensure that company-wide operations and logistics are as cost-effective and successful as possible.

Learn more about Optoro and reverse logistics here.

A version of this article originally appeared on WWD and is used with permission.

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Jess Szmajda is chief technology officer of Optoro, the leading technology platform that helps retailers and brands manage their returned and excess inventory. Follow her on Twitter @jszmajda.

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