Information Technology Megatrends in the Retail Sector

Identifying and investigating the impact of IT mega trends (and emerging trends) on the retail business sector.

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The global economy today is driven by information technology (IT) in a major way. Every passing day, new innovations are presented in different areas to spur efficiency and effectiveness in operations. Technology has helped spur optimization of operations, as well awaken new opportunities in different economic sectors. Some of the megatrends in information technology today include artificial intelligence, data analytics, and cloud computing. All these trends are greatly inspirational in making business easier. One market that can greatly cash in on these trends is the retail sector. The sector is undergoing significant transformation, especially with the growth in e-commerce. Therefore, artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and cloud computing can go a long way in compounding the opportunities for retailers. More specifically, AI could be applied to automate business processes, ensure insight through data analysis, and engaging with customers and employees more effectively. There are other IT trends that could play a significant role in improving retail operations. Cashier-less shopping and e-commerce are important trends with the ability to cause great transformation in the retail sector.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Retail

Artificial intelligence is defined as a computer's ability to do tasks that are usually done by humans because they require human intelligence and discernment. The application of AI in retail comes in different ways, and helps execute tasks faster and more accurately than humans would. Application of AI in online retail has been the trend, especially on customer intelligence. The leading retailers like Walmart, Amazon and others are using AI to understand better what their clients need. Further, they are using the same to develop targeted marketing messages that will appeal to specific segments of the market. This would not have been as possible without AI.
Beyond customer intelligence, AI is being applied in customer service. This happens through creation of chat-bots that customers interact with and share their experiences or challenges. It is a good channel for consumer feedback. Importantly, AI has become a significant part of inventory management. A firm can track the lowering and rising levels of stock without having to keep a lot of manually updated records. It makes it easier in decisions related to inventory. Overall, retailers can enjoy better returns from a more optimized approach to operations. About 42% of retail organizations use AI in their operations, a rate projected to rise to more than 60% in 2025 [Source ]. This is an indicator of the emphasis of importance placed on this approach by businesses.

Data Analytics in Retail

Data analytics is a scientific approach to the analysis of raw data, making it useful in the conclusions made by decision makers. Data gives them the leeway of making evidence-based decisions at all levels of business. Retailers can use the big data concept at various levels and for different purposes. The business can apply data analytics to discover trends, predict outcomes, and make better business decisions. For instance, a business, using data analytics, may find that a certain brand takes too long to clear from the inventory. To the contrary, a competing brand of the same product is wiped from the stores too soon. With such information, the retailer may decide to stock up more of the latter brand and less of the former.
The application of big data is broad and largely appreciated in different sectors. It presents opportunities even beyond the retail spectrum. Big data analysts are usually hired as outsourced consultants, and they bring their expertise in analysing the information for business gains. The host of decisions that can be made using big data create bigger and better opportunities for the retailers. For instance, using customer's purchase history, a retailer can formulate targeted discount campaigns on the consumers.
Data analytics have helped improve accuracy in different levels. A firm can easily predict demand with accuracy and easily. This allows the firm to make inventory purchase decisions informed on what they expect to sell. Data analytics have also helped in personalization of products and services. After observing the consumer behaviour for a period of time, a business can understand the characteristics of services and products they like. As such, the business can easily personalize the needs of that consumer in future. This creates a feeling of appreciation and recognition that breeds loyalty among consumers. They stick to the business in the long term and refer others, giving the firm a chance to increase its consumer base.

E-Commerce in Retail

The overall concept of technology in retail has been primarily viewed as e-commerce. Online stores have become the order as businesses seek alternatives to the brick and mortar stores. The evolution of retail business has seen e-commerce emerge as a strong and preferable alternative to physical stores. Businesses have an opportunity to expand their market reach through e-commerce. People who cannot access the mortar and brick stores have an opportunity to still get the items they need through deliveries. In that regard, retailers have bigger opportunities to grow and expand.
E-commerce has improved the options for target markets that businesses can consider. The current market dynamics demand that a firm must target every available space in the market, whether locally or globally. Companies like Alibaba, Amazon, and e-Bay may not have managed to get consumers globally without e-commerce. These organizations have leveraged on online business to extend their services to a global audience (Li et al., 2020). As such, they have managed to grow and expand internationally. With the large consumer base, these firms have increased their revenue and income over time.
Every business can now easily access a benchmark of what to do in e-commerce. There are plenty of examples on the web-space of businesses that have prospered in the use and application of e-commerce approach. In the UK, over $3 billion is spent weekly in the e-commerce retail sector. Over 36% of the total retail market in the UK is e-commerce. The statistics show the growing influence of e-commerce as part of retail business. In the next five years, it is projected that e-commerce will command about 50% of retail business in the United Kingdom [Source ].

Cashier-less Shopping

Another IT-enabled trend in retail is the elimination of cashiers from the counters. Retailers have resorted into automated teller spaces, where customers just swipe after being billed by the machines. The reduced human interaction ensures faster turnaround and service to consumers. Such cashier-less services have been tested by leading retailers like Amazon, which launched the Amazon Go service in 2018. The automated checkout experience does not only save the human labour costs for the business, but also offers an interesting experience for the shopper (Helmi et al., 2021). Therefore, it is a win for both ends of the business transaction. The consumers are beneficiaries, and so is the business.
One of the big aims of a business in its operations is reducing costs and increasing net profits. Marr [Source ] reported that automated technology costs between 20% and 30% of the human worker's salary. As such, the firm would be retaining at least 70% of what would have been paid to the employees as part of its profit. Such financial gains offered by cashier-less cannot be underestimated. Couple the financial gains with the impression on today's consumers who demand fast, safe, and convenient checkout alternatives. The business invites success through these outcomes of adopting cashier-less shopping. A retailer like Tesco has 2653 stores in the UK [Source ]. Suppose the firm rolled out cashier-less shopping in all stores across the country, they could be saving on 70% of salary paid to cashiers in those stores could be saved as part of the firm's income.
In summary, the influence of IT trends in the retail sector is immense. The players in the sector only have a job to evaluate the costs and benefits of any trend, and they will be in a position to make a decision on whether to adopt or reject what the trend officers. Multinational organizations have taken the lead in integrating IT trends within their business operations. Other smaller and medium retail organizations are following closely by adopting the affordable trends into their system. With every improvement, the businesses are realizing better rates of success and improved operations. IT offerings like e-commerce, data analytics, and AI are unavoidable in doing business today. They are the frontier leading organizations to success.

References (APA 6th Ed.)

Helmi, R., Bin Hishamuddin, M., Jamal, A., Md Johar, M. and Sim, L., 2021. Quantum Application: A Smart Cashier-less Shopping Application with Biometric Payment Authentication. 2021 IEEE 11th IEEE Symposium on Computer Applications & Industrial Electronics (ISCAIE),. Li, X., Zhao, X., Xu, W. and Pu, W., 2020. Measuring ease of use of mobile applications in e-commerce retailing from the perspective of consumer online shopping behaviour patterns. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 55, p.102093.
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August 08, 2023