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Exclusive: Nikki Baird, VP, Aptos examines store innovation

Nikki Baird, VP of strategy and product, Aptos

The physical store is still the center of retail.

Nikki Baird, VP of strategy and product, Aptos, recently sat down with Chain Store Age to give her insight into how retailers can focus on boosting store sales, which the NRF recently predicted will reach to close to $5 trillion in 2024. 

Baird examined emerging store-related technology trends that can help retailers maximize performance in areas including data management, mobile devices, endless aisle inventory, and maximizing the reach of the store to the customer.

How can retailers best manage and unify customer, order and inventory data in-store and across their enterprise? 

The first thing is to acknowledge that unifying data across the enterprise is a lifestyle, not a ‘project’ that is one and done. It is never-ending. This is particularly true for customer data because there are new customer data sources coming into play that never existed before. 

Sometimes these data sources go away just as quickly as they came into being. Is anyone tracking customers’ metaverse IDs these days? Or how about NFT ownership?  

As for inventory, it’s not just about having a single source for inventory data, but it’s also about understanding all the possible statuses and ownerships of inventory and what all of that means in how different systems look at and use inventory. 

For example, a merchandising solution wants to know all the inventory that a retailer owns and how much it has committed to buying. But an order management system (OMS) wants to know how much inventory is available to promise to a customer, and that might include inventory the retailer doesn’t own, like drop-ship items). 

Or the OMS may have to exclude inventory in a store because that store has hit its maximum capacity for fulfilling ship-from-store orders for the day. 

With order data, a major consideration lies in who can touch and change that order and when. Can a store associate change a destination address for an order that a customer placed online? When is it too late to do that? 

Or can a customer service representative in a contact center grab a send sale (an order one store sends to another store for customer pickup that is often handled solely behind the scenes by the POS solution) and turn it into a ship-from-store order?  

It’s easy to say, ‘I want one view of X data,’ whether that is inventory, orders, or customers. The reality is that you have to ask who the view is for, and what do you want them to be able to do with that information? 

More often than not, different parts of the organization have different needs as well as different or even conflicting objectives. That’s why unification of this information isn’t so easy. 

How can retailers take advantage of mobile device advancements in their stores? 

Retailers need to unlock store associate creativity and engagement. The challenge with most mobile device deployments is that a project team rolls through and drops off a bunch of mobile devices in a store, gives associates some basic training and then basically says, ‘See you in the next two to five years when we have the next major update.’

But most of the challenges with mobile devices are on the operational side or are at the fusion of tech and process. This could be for something as basic as providing associates a way to carry a mobile device and keep it easily accessible. 

Just because mobile technology provides instant access to new capabilities in the aisle doesn’t mean that it’s natural and easy to work that into how a store associate engages with a customer. 

If associates have no hope of improving the things they are dealing with right away, then I can pretty much guarantee that those devices will end up gathering dust in a drawer. Not because store associates don’t want mobile, but because the mobile tool doesn’t work how they need it to. 

What best practices are related to endless aisle in stores? 

You have to train store associates on when to introduce the endless aisle option and how to identify a shopper who is looking frustrated and could be needing a ‘save the sale’ moment. Retailers also need use policy decisions to address things like pricing and promotions – when those are different online and in the store – and how to handle that in endless aisle situations. 

The fastest way to kill endless aisle activity is to insist that any sale saved gets credited to online only. If store associates take payment in the store, if they’re the ones doing the work to turn a miss into a sale, even if the inventory isn’t right there in that store, the store should be rewarded – from that store associate, if that’s how it works, all the way up to the store manager and beyond. 

[Read more: Nikki Baird discusses store growth strategies]

How can retailers expand the reach of their brick-and-mortar operations? 

Do anything that draws people into stores – events, trunk shows, activities, experiences. And then anything that expands how the store contributes to the overall retail experience, whether that’s on the supply chain side for inventory or returns, home delivery, or pickup. 

Or even just make inventory visible or give the store a digital life online. Retailers need to be more creative about how stores meet customer needs beyond selling what happens to be on the rack or the shelf. 

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