Guest Column | June 13, 2022

The Agile Movement Is Catching On In Retail. Here's How To Create CX Consumers Crave

By David Wilkinson, NCR Retail

Agile iStock-1129571739

Are you a perfectionist? Many of us strive for perfection in all we do. We want to perform impeccably at work, at home, and in our social lives, and in doing so, attempt the impossible.

The same goes for retail. Far too often, retailers sit on the digital transformation sideline, expecting technology to deliver flawless functionality before they take it to market. You might expect your loyalty program to be impeccable or your curbside experience to go off without a hitch before introducing either.

But, if retailers learned anything since March 2020, it’s that they must respond to market changes and consumer needs quickly – even unforeseen ones. Throughout the past two+ years, customers’ demands changed, supply chain complexities increased, unforeseen inventory shortages occurred, and price inflation reached a 40-year high. Perhaps it would be wise to push perfectionist tendencies aside and pivot toward agile retail transformation instead.

Today’s retailers must change with the times, and nimble practices will get you in the modern retail game while letting you alter your course along the way. The agile movement involves a retailer being in constant flux to benefit from new opportunities and to add value to customers.

Let’s take a look at this movement and ways to help retailers like you join in to create a better customer experience (CX).

The Importance Of Quickly Pivoting

Agility requires efficiency and speed, allowing retailers to respond to external forces in real-time – think March 2020, as businesses around the world barred in-store shopping overnight.

McKinsey’s study, “In search of speed: A new way for retailers to organize”, showed brands that moved quickly to agile strategies during the pandemic experienced material gains. They found success by focusing on customer-centric priorities and pushing for faster decisions rather than expecting perfection.

For example, by offering or improving curbside pickup capabilities quickly, retailers could sell their goods, keep employees and consumers safe and improve bottlenecks or processes that needed it. Similarly, contactless payments – valued at $10.05 trillion in 2019 and expected to reach $4.6 trillion by 2027 – became a hot commodity, improving the way retail workers and customers safely transact.

The Roots Of Agile Methodology

Interestingly, agile methodology stems from software development. It involves breaking a large project into smaller pieces and getting customer feedback along the way. Unlike the Waterfall model approach, where projects are completed in a step-by-step manner, the agile model is done in sprints, allowing parts of a project to be developed in tandem but separately. Integration and deployment are ongoing, growing, evolving, and improving.

For retail, applying agility means you can offer buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS), for instance, gauge customer satisfaction and improve what’s not working well. Or you can tinker with your loyalty program, see what resonates with shoppers, and alter your strategy according to their responses. The agile method allows you to create a minimally viable product, gain quick feedback and repeat the process for continual improvement.

The Reasons New Shopping Behaviors Have Emerged

The rapid introduction of BOPIS, curbside/home delivery, and touchless payments might’ve caused customers’ heads to spin – but because retailers pivoted their approach to pandemic innovation, shopping behavior quickly changed. In fact, this rapid change in operations has consumers rethinking the shopping experience as they come back into stores. Many consumers who didn’t like self-checkout before 2020 found themselves preferring it because they felt it was safer and more efficient.

McKinsey found results of this forced change include:

  • Digital shopping will increase.
  • Consumers switched brands because of economic pressures, store closings, and other reasons. Gen Z and higher-income earners are more likely to switch.
  • Although people crave their former lives, time at home – the “rise of the homebody economy” – post-COVID is growing.

For retailers, these findings mean seamless user touchpoints and engagements are essential. If you don’t offer BOPIS or contactless payments, you are likely letting a percentage of potential profits go by the wayside. Don’t wait to implement them until the technology is perfect. By starting with a solution and improving it as customer (and employee) feedback comes in, you become more agile and in tune with the times.

The Need For Multiple Channels To Meet Rising Customer Expectations

Technologies that used to be nice-to-haves are now must-haves, like mobile payments and apps. Consumers want to order from their mobile devices and pick up curbside. They want loyalty programs that provide discounts, give them something for free and reward them in other ways for shopping a brand.

Here are some of the solutions agile retailers are focusing their efforts on:

  • Mobile point of sale (POS) devices
  • Scan-and-go (self-checkout) stations
  • Touchless payment technology
  • Augmented reality (AR)
  • Loyalty program enhancements
  • Computer vision
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)

All these retail technology tools and more can help brands become more responsive to consumers’ needs. Having solutions such as self-checkouts or contactless payments, for instance, are prominent considerations in how customers will shop and from what retailers’ customers will purchase.

In fact, according to the McKinsey study, “The pace of technology advancement, the development of new ways of interacting with customers, and the rate of customer-driven demands will continue to accelerate, forcing retailers to constantly adapt.”

But to truly adapt and unify these customer-friendly solutions, savvy retailers are turning to a more holistic platform approach to run their stores and sites from end to end. This strategy leverages the rich data and seamless integration available within platform technology to enable predictive and automated service actions – like those mentioned above – which reduce operational complexities, accelerate digital transformation and optimize staff productivity. Platforms make it easier than ever to be fast, flexible, and future-proof.

The Way Of Now And The Future

You may have heard the saying “perfection is the enemy of progress,” and in retail, it’s true. Supply chain bottlenecks, inventory shortages, and price inflation make the perfect technology, perfect timing, and perfect market conditions unattainable. However, agile practices will help retailers become quicker, more responsive, and more focused on efficiency and performance.

Next-generation retail technology powered by a strategic platform approach can help retailers unify touchpoints and customer data, become more agile, and make quicker decisions to respond to changing market needs – even if along the way you adopt a new solution and need to tweak it. You’ll be able to get closer to increasing your share of wallet and delivering a customer experience that comes much closer to perfect.

Don’t wait until the rising tide of customer preference leaves you behind. Start innovating with new technology today – and let agile methods be your guide.

About The Author

David Wilkinson is the President and General Manager for Retail at NCR Corp., where he is responsible for creating and executing NCR’s overall vision and strategy for the Retail industry. He is focused on helping Retailers thrive and deliver on their brand promise in a digital-first world by leveraging NCR’s unique software, hardware, and services capabilities.