Unlocking retail tech success with Miya Knights

As far as authorities on retail tech go, there are few who match the breadth, depth and experience of Miya Knights.

  • Topic
    Customer experience, Store operations, Retail trends

Miya Knights is one of the most respected voices in retail tech with over 25 years’ experience as a journalist, editor, publisher, analyst, research director, head of industry insight and content marketing, consultant and advisor. 

She’s the co-author of two best-selling books, ”Amazon: How the world’s most revolutionary retailer will continue to revolutionize commerce’’ and ”Omnichannel Retail: How to build winning stores in a digital world,“ keynote speaker and industry commentator, with regular international and national print, TV and radio appearances.

But, on top of this she loves to shop and that, because we’re all consumers and have a common frame of reference, there’s something for everybody in writing about retail.

We caught up with her to explore what the best retail tech can do, how retail has changed, and to take a peek into what the future might hold.

You’ve been writing about retail and tech for over 20 years. In your opinion, how has retail changed?

I first heard this from Paul Coby, who was CIO of John Lewis for a long time, and he said that what matters in retail doesn’t change. And I agree with him. What changes is our means of accessing the things that are important to us when we shop.

If we look at that statement – what matters in retail doesn’t change – what it basically means is we still want that old fashioned experience of walking into a local grocery store or your favorite fashion store and having them know what you want, and treat you better than a one-time, anonymous, cash-paying customer – especially when we shop a retailer’s store as well as online. What we don’t like is being treated like a number rather than a real person and, while digital and technology adoption hasn’t necessarily changed this, it’s certainly thrown a spotlight on it.

In lots of the research I’ve carried out around the top influencers of a consumer’s choice of brand or retailer, it’s always price that comes out on top. Traditionally, the second two are usually promotions or proximity. What’s interesting is how digital technology adoption has changed this third option because consumers now prize being rewarded and recognized for their continued custom far higher now they know they’re sharing so much information about themselves digitally.

What digital and tech adoption have done is to essentially flip the script on the balance of power between the retailer and the consumer. Now, as consumers, we can shape our shopping journeys whichever way we want to by mixing up our shopping channels and configuring our shopping journeys in different ways – and we expect our activity across all channels to be unified. In turn, this has led to another kind of relationship emerging between retailers and their customers, which is characterized by the ‘give to get’ dynamic.

Think of it like a spectrum where at one end there are privacy hoarders who don’t want you to know anything about them and, at the other end, are the people who are very free and loose with their data, as long as they perceive they’re getting something of value for it. The reality is we all sit somewhere in the middle of this spectrum and, broadly speaking, the ‘give to get’ dynamic is encapsulated by the perception that, if I give you more information about me, I expect to get more back, to be recognized, and rewarded.

The best retailers blend all the different, traditional and emerging facets of the shopping journey – whether that’s at the touch, feel and discovery phases of their journeys, irrespective of if they browsing online or interacting with store associates. It’s the retailers that cater to these diverse expectations that are going to win the most customers.

So, in essence, we as consumers haven’t changed, but everything around us has and our expectations of retailers – and the retail experience – has changed as well thanks to tech.

What should and does the best retail tech do?

It should put the customer first. The advent of digital and the data it generates has given retailers an unprecedented opportunity to know who their best customers are. I don’t think in the past they cared, or they needed to care. But digital has enabled a proliferation of choice for consumers.

Consumers increasingly use digital tools to help them choose and narrow down their field of choice because the amount of competition out there nowadays can be quite bewildering. So, in that respect, retailers are competing, not just in terms of price and promotion and proximity, but on things like ease of search and delivery speed. Retail has become borderless and complexity has exploded, along with the macroeconomic challenges retailers must overcome.

So, taking all this into account, using technology to know who your best customer is has got to be most important strategic imperative a retailer has.

That’s beyond the fact technology is essential for retailers to operate well and at scale. Tech has allowed retailers to extend their presence exponentially whether that’s internationally, across social media networks, or across different channels, for example. So, you have that operational requirement of technology, which nowadays should enable you to be more efficient and more productive.

Yet, retailers still tend to talk about technology as a cost center. It’s not if you have the baseline covered. But, what we see today, is that baseline isn’t necessarily there in stores at the moment.

Sitoo is a great example of this because it puts everything in the palm of the store associate’s hand. Even at a most basic level, if a retailer has a point of sale that’s connected to their ecommerce platform, then they can start to know who their best customers are because, invariably, they’ll be shopping with them across all the channels: they’ll be a social follower, as well as shopping and browsing online and in-store.

There was research carried out by the Harvard Business Review in 2018 that found if a customer shops with you across more than one channel then they are worth 4% more per purchase per basket online, and 10% more per purchase or basket in-store – and this value has increased since the research was carried out. So, they spend more, it’s simple.

 That’s why it pays to know who your best customers are. If you can find out who those best customers are, you can go out and find more like them. And you can use the information that they share with you to run your business better. For example, if you can better sense and track their demand, then you can rightsize your supply chain to that from a sustainability perspective, as well as to ensure more full-price sales. Everything, absolutely everything, stems from knowing who your customers are, what their frequency is, and where they are. 

The final thing is that omnichannel doesn’t necessarily require you to be everywhere for your customers, it just requires you to be where your customers want you to be. Knowing where your best customers are , the best tech deployments will help you serve and engage with them  more efficiently. The best tech helps retailers listen to and interact with customers, so you can find out who your best customers are, to find more like them, and run your business better as a result.

What are your top tips for retailers to be successful into the future?

To echo what I’ve already said, use accelerated digital adoption to find out who your best customers are. At the minute, stores are a bit of a digital black hole. There’s so much more that can be done with technology to bring the convenience, range and choice of online into the physical retail environment. Stores have historically been under invested and that gulf is even more stark post-Covid, now we’re all digitally savvy.

As consumers, we now have so much power in the palm of our hands. Retailers need to harness this, but they also need to empower their store associates so they have the same – if not more – knowledge as the people they are serving.

Ultimately, it’s understanding what your customers want. What will improve their journey, or make it faster, or more differentiated? What will make them more curious? What are they looking for? What will incentivize frequency? There’s lots of different technologies out there that retailers can use to help their customers engage with them better and share more information about themselves. This, in turn, then helps retailers give their customers more of what they want and everyone wins.

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