Kurt Vonnegut, one of the most influential American novelists of the twentieth century, once wrote, “Science is magic that works.”
The same can be said about technology. When it works the way it’s supposed to, technology is magical.
However, consumers don’t always see it this way. They’re no longer enamored by technology’s charm. These days there is a level of expectation that technology should work, all the time, without fail or delay. Consumers view this with a sense of entitlement, and rightfully so, considering the rapid pace of technological advancements and modern conveniences that exist today. As a result, consumers are quick to ditch a brand or retail company after a poor experience with the way they leverage technology, and swiftly embrace larger competitors like Amazon or Walmart that have fulfilled their expectations in the past.
Technologies that are relied on to carry out core business functions are considered business-critical. From maintaining inventory in the warehouse and retail stores to providing retailers and consumers with insight from when a product ships to when it arrives, technologies that are business-critical permeate the modern supply chain. However, as advancements in technology continue to accelerate, deciding on the right solutions to edge out the competition is becoming increasingly more complicated.
Companies have become more aggressive in striving to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace by offering faster, more personalized services that are contingent on the types of technologies deployed. For example, after experimenting with drones for years, Amazon recently announced that the company is going to ramp up its use of the unmanned aerial devices for same-day delivery. To remain competitive, Walmart recently announced that it will roll out free same-day delivery, as well as a new service where delivery people will enter consumers’ homes and place food directly into their refrigerators.
“In-home delivery,” as it’s called, will require Walmart to leverage a new layer of technology. Deliverers will be outfitted with wearable cameras allowing customers to watch their deliveries remotely. This is Walmart’s answer to its rival, the Amazon Key service, which allows Amazon delivery people to use smart locks to enter homes and garages.
This is all excellent news for the consumer, so long as the technology works without fail. For its drone delivery program, Amazon is dealing with the immense logistical challenges by reeling in its delivery range to 15-mile round trips, limiting delivered packages to five pounds and restricting the landing zones to flat back yards.
This is the new reality, not just for Amazon and Walmart, but for all retailers. Here’s what retailers need to know to remain competitive:
1. Now is the time for reinvention: With Amazon preparing to ramp up its drone delivery program and with Walmart sending delivery people into homes via “smart entry technology” and wearable cameras, retail rivals need to adapt to new technologies and pivot their logistics to stay competitive. These advancements should prompt companies to ask themselves what they would do differently if they were to start from scratch again today.
Mobile technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) make these new distribution methods a reality. It’s now in retailers’ hands to leverage these new technologies to stay ahead of the curve. According to a recent survey conducted by SOTI, about 65% of consumers said they would be very comfortable, or somewhat comfortable, with new shipping methods offered by retailers.
2. Mobility has never been more important: Reliable mobile coverage and real-time access to information at the point of interaction is the only way to confidently navigate today’s vast, widely dispersed and complex maze of workflows.
“Reliable” is the key word here. The technology has to work, when and where the consumer wants it to work. In today’s world, access to technology is everything, and if it doesn’t work, the customer will quickly move on to better options.
3. The customer is in the driver’s seat: With the ability to access real-time data through mobile apps, customers want to know the exact location of their order at all times. Examples include Uber Eats or Seamless, where the consumer is satisfied only if they can monitor the progress of their order from payment through to delivery.
Retailers have to be able to respond, in real time, to the demands of consumers, when and where and how they want it. As a result, this places enormous expectations on technical prowess and logistics, which places massive strain on the day-to-day, minute-to-minute mechanics of getting that technology to work, all the time, without fail. Or fixing it quickly when it does fail — because after everything we’ve built up technology to be, the reality is it isn’t perfect and won’t work 100% of the time.
If retailers can’t deliver the goods in this technically complex environment, then its rivals will do it for them.
Technology is magic that works…but only when it works.
Ryan Webber is Vice President of Enterprise Mobility at SOTI, where he oversees global mobility strategies for Fortune 100 companies looking to harness the power of mobility to transform their operations. Webber leverages his unique expertise with more than 15 years of experience working in the mobile space to help SOTI customers across a variety of sectors including retail, health care and field services. Prior to joining SOTI, Webber held different roles at KORE Telematics and TELUS Business Solutions. He holds a B.A. from McMaster University (Canada) and an MA from Griffith University (Australia).