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Huge shift to mobile has left the industry with a big skills gap, argues James Cronin, commerce general manager at NetSuite EMEA

The rapid development of omni-channel retail has been the most dramatic movement retail has ever seen.  And over the last few years, we have seen a massive shift from high street shopping to online shopping through a myriad of different devices, whether that is on a smartphone or tablet.

Some retailers caught on more quickly than others that this was not just a fad but a significant shift in the way we all live our lives. But this huge shift has left the industry with a big skills gap, confirmed by a recent survey from Accenture which found that that 69 percent of marketing executives agreed that consumers expect the kind of relevant offers and interactions omni-channel insight and analysis allows, yet only 12 percent said they are leading edge at it.

There are three big issues in the search for online talent that need to be addressed in order for the UK retail industry to better deliver when it comes to omni-channel. So what do top retail executives need to know to stay ahead of the competition?

Understanding the importance of big data

Omni-channel executives need to understand the importance of big data. Big data is a word that is often bandied around, but with very little definition and context. And it has a completely different meaning dependent on industry and job role. For example, merchandisers working for omni-channel retailers need to have access to data instantly. Having a cloud-based system with the ability to provide real-time data that can then be used to analyse trends and demands is crucial.

Omni-channel retail experts should be using this demographic data to drive better stock availability through all channels as well as to present their online offering, particularly for mobile shopping. Yet, there is a lack of understanding when it comes to what is needed at the back-end to support an effective omni-channel presence. The importance of understanding this issue, at a high level is mission critical for the business as it ultimately affects ROI.

It’s about more than a single device

There is common perception that the consumer will have a device preference and stick with that single device when it comes to shopping.  But, this is short-sighted and not necessarily the case. There needs to be a better understanding of how to use transactional data to analyse consumer shopping habits and preferences when it comes to omni-channel. For example, mobile shopping usually takes place when someone has a short interval of time to fill, so consumers are unlikely to spend a lot of time browsing hundreds of products on a mobile device, as opposed to a desktop computer.

This is where merchandisers must be on top of consumer demand – products that are selling fast should be easily accessible and the timeframe to buy is essential: speed of site, usability and data retrieval are key.  These all need to be achieved within a shorter timescale than for a consumer sat on a desktop or at home.

Big ticket items present a different type of challenge to merchandisers and retailers wanting to expand to mobile. By its nature, mobile channels present consumers with relatively little information, i.e. description and picture, rather than pages of text. So retailers must use their mobile offering as a way of enticing their customers to visit a store, rather than complete a transaction on their mobile device.

This is where bricks and mortar stores still play an important part in the seamless customer journey – the shopper will start and finish their journey through different channels, but should be presented with a consistent service throughout the sale.

It is crucial that senior retail omni-channel staff have the skills to be able to interpret data and consumer trends in order to provide a more seamless service to each individual customer, through whichever channel they wish to use.

Looking towards the future – adaptability and scalability

Omni-channel retailers need to be able to have vision and ensure the business is flexible enough to adapt to the next technology. For example, take Dash and AmazonFresh. Dash connects to your home Wi-Fi network and works directly with your AmazonFresh account. Say or scan items into your Dash, and then view the list on your desktop or mobile device to purchase and schedule delivery. This creates yet another device to add to omni-channel shopping efforts. Currently available only in the US – Amazon’s next goal is to bring it over here to Europe.

It’s not just about the consumer either, successful market tests of the Dash could lead to these devices being used in a business environment that can’t afford the investment in automated inventory management tools, revolutionising the back end of retail. In a small manufacturing business, for example, certain employees could be given these devices to be able to order parts, raw materials, or even machine maintenance. It is these kinds of developments in technology that senior retail executives need to be business ready for.

In order to compete in such an environment, retail executives need to ensure they have the right system in place that allows the business to have that flexibility to adopt new technology trends quickly.

James Cronin, is the general manager of EMEA commerce at NetSuite