Retailers go digital to meet customer expectations

| October 30, 2018

Customer expectations and competition are forcing retailers to evolve and invest heavily in digital business transformation, according to international forecasting company Gartner Inc.

Relative to other industries, retail has traditionally been a laggard in terms of appetite for change, digital maturity and hence technology spend, however, this is no longer the case, and retail now surpasses most other industries with regard to IT spending.

Global retail sector technology spending is predicted to grow 3.6 percent to reach almost $203.6 billion in 2019, with similar growth rates for the next two years.

Software is the fastest-growing category of technology spending, as retail CIOs prioritise analytics, digital marketing, mobile applications, e-commerce platforms and artificial intelligence (AI) as the technologies most crucial to their organisation’s mission.

“Retail CIOs used to be tasked with minimising risk and cost,” said Molly Beams, a senior director and analyst at Gartner. “Now they are held accountable for business results. They are prioritising ROI and other measurable business impacts.

“Retail CIOs are investing in analytics for both near-term benefits like decision making and to prepare for innovations such as smart machines, AI and augmented reality — all of which will require robust datasets.”

In Australia, retailers are forecast to spend A$4.9 billion on technology products and services in 2019, an increase of 3.2 percent from 2018. New Zealand retail sector IT spending is forecast to grow 3 percent to NZ$779 million in 2019.

Speaking at a Gartner Symposium on the Gold Coast, Thomas O’Connor, senior director, analyst at Gartner, said that contrary to what many people believe, physical retail is thriving. Global retail sales will increase 4.8 percent in 2018, more stores are opening than closing and consumer confidence remains high.

“In retail, there is only one battle that matters — the fight for the customer,” said Mr. O’Connor.

Gartner predicts that by 2023, Alibaba and Amazon will have captured 40 percent market share of global online retail, up from 33 percent in 2017.

“There are many ways for retailers to differentiate from e-commerce giants, and therefore profitably coexist,” said Mr. O’Connor.

“We think that yes, there will be a robust retail industry. But the rules of the game are changing rapidly. Different kinds of retail businesses will continue to arrive and challenge the status quo.”

Mr. O’Connor said that to succeed, retailers need to get even closer to their customers using new digital capabilities such as advanced analytics and AI to segment customers by behaviours and validate their evolving wants and needs.

They should also make clear strategic choices to adapt capabilities that are in lock step with how consumers are evolving. Transformative technology must only be scaled once it has been established there is a clear consumer want for it.

Finally, retailers must predict and drive results by establishing clear leading indicators and measures of digital transformation success.