By Vish Ganapathy, and Chief Technologist, Global Retail Industry, IBM
Today’s digitally-empowered consumer is the best informed, most demanding ever. Prices, product availability, the latest social media buzz, what friends think of their purchases—it’s all at the consumer’s fingertips within seconds, putting them in complete control. In response, retailers are on the hot seat when it comes to providing customers shopping experiences personalized to their tastes. Retailers are tasked with innovating to combine big data, analytics and mobile technology to gain the insights needed to get personal. Such innovation, however, requires speed and operational efficiency to act in real time and to be viable.
Fortunately, retailers are getting some much needed help from the cloud. Much like shopping, cloud computing, too, is moving beyond a one-size-fits-all configuration and becoming customizable. Retailers can now craft the cloud that fits their specific needs, making it easier than ever to deliver the personalization that makes or breaks a customer’s shopping experience these days.
The technologies that give power to consumers also create the data needed for retailers to meet their needs. And, most of the data created via the Web, mobile, geolocation and social interactions are in the cloud. In other words, retailers have to tap external sources to get to this information, and when combined with transactional, historical and segmentation data can create truly powerful insights that can redefine the customer experience.
Smart retailers are now using such data to make crucial decisions about their assortment, staffing and service, store location and format, online channels, marketing and merchandising. The cloud will help them respond even more quickly and innovatively to customers.
With a personalized cloud infrastructure, retailers can choose exactly the services they need—when they need them—rather than paying for and subscribing to features they don’t want. This advantage allows retailers to combine their existing IT investments with the flexibility and speed of the cloud, as well as reduced cost and risk. With a cloud tailored to support their unique requirements, retailers have the right solution in place quickly to provide a personalized and individual experience for their customers while managing IT costs and resources.
In response to this need, IBM rolled out 20 new customized cloud-based solutions that include consulting services, pre-built, industry-tested assets from IBM Research, software, advanced analytics, and ongoing support and cloud infrastructure from IBM’s Softlayer. Retailers can choose from services for managing marketing, mobile, digital commerce, and customer or social analytics, for example. Within these, they can choose specific options or, more likely, combine different features together that best fit their needs and easily integrates with their existing applications.
A retailer could layer on integrated analytics to drill down into a customer’s shopping behavior and purchases to understand preferences that can inform their product and service development strategies.
Or if the retailers need to expand their mobile capabilities, they could opt for a cloud-based offering that weaves mobile into the company’s business fabric. That way, the company could develop new business models and markets based on customers tastes, all while speeding up the rollout of new offerings.
Retailers are embracing cloud at a rapid pace along with the rest of the market, drawn by its cost flexibility, scalability, adaptability, connectivity, and ability to mask complexity. Add to this a new level of customization, and we'll see cloud become a platform for innovation and business strategy that has the power to transform competitive landscapes.
By tailoring the cloud to their own specific requirements, companies can meld their operations, business processes, and data more tightly together. So, rather than focusing primarily how they run their operations, they can turn to pulling more insights out of the massive floods of data they’re collecting, creating ecosystems for connecting with people inside and outside of the company, and rolling out new social and mobile applications.
For retailers in particular, this advance is a much needed turnaround. Retailers already understand the competitive advantage that personalization provides, and now, new cloud solutions give that same power and flexibility to help retailers to support customer demands for tailored assortments, targeted marketing and personalized shopping. It’s a new foundation that retailers can build on so they can live up to consumers' demands which have been unleashed by today's cloud, analytics mobile and social technologies.