When the Pandemic struck early last year life as we knew it changed almost overnight. With so many unknowns, nonessential businesses obviously shuttered. Many businesses had to rethink their business operations in order to reach customers who once were freely able to shop in store. As we hopefully are looking towards the future and a post pandemic life, I have begun to reflect on some of the silver linings of the pandemic. As we have discussed in class, the digital transformation we have experienced in the past year has been overwhelming. Not only businesses, but also consumers have been pushed to adopt new technologies at a speedy rate. One of my favorite transformations has been the integration of the digital and in person shopping experience.
As someone who loves both the in person and online shopping experience, the integration of the two has added convenience, saved time, and I believe this is the way of the future. Two companies that have, in my eyes, been very effective in catering to the varying shopping experiences consumers were looking for during the pandemic are Nordstrom and Target. Both have apps, websites, and brick and mortar stores. Both companies quickly integrated in store inventory counts to their websites and apps to allow consumers to be aware of whether the item is in store. Both also allow for same day curbside pickup for in stock items. Last Christmas as the Pandemic raged on, I was able to order last minute presents for curbside at Target and never had to enter the store. Last week, I searched high and low for a new bath mat at Target. Of course September 1 Boston move-in has led to an emptying of every Target in a 10 mile radius of Boston. The Target app is easily able to tell nearby stock counts for any item as well as which aisle it can be found on. While I think that these features were touted to decrease density across stores over the past 18 months, I imagine that these convenient features are here to stay. The ability to quickly pivot and push technology adoption led companies like Target and Nordstrom to better than expected results last year.
In a Case Study on Zara that I recently read (Information Systems:A Manager’s Guide to Harnessing Technology v8.0 John Gallaugher CHAPTER 3 Zara: Fast Fashion from Savvy Systems), I learned of the highly digital advancements that the company has implemented that power their business model. Zara is able to produce items and bring them to brick and mortar locations in a matter of 25 days which is vastly different from their competitors. Zara is able to use data to minimize cost and maximize return on investment. Zara utilizes technology and data to consistently put the “right” thing in stores at the bolsters the consumer experience by giving them what they want as soon as possible. Information sharing practices bring what the consumer is looking for directions to the store quickly, relative to competitors. Employees are empowered to share feedback they receive from customers. Real-time insights are leveraged to capture what is successful and what is failing in the store on a regular basis. Employees are armed with technology that can appropriately share this information with necessary points in the value chain to consistently make improvements. Various technologies that Zara uses to power their business model include RFID which uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to objects.This is used as a means of inventory control. Zara also uses visual search technology, QR codes integrated with their app, and in store inventory information on their app to create a seamless and blended shopping experience.
The coordination and integration of in-store and online experiences will be necessary to create a sustainable competitive advantage for businesses as consumers are shopping online now more than ever. Companies should focus on maximizing technology spend without overspending on extraneous additions that will not be used, will be used incorrectly, or will hinder the retail experience. There should be a focus on points in the value chain where technology can benefit the firm, the consumer, or both. Lastly, data should be leveraged to ensure that salespeople, employees, and customers are able and willing to use the technology available to make the investment worth the cost.