Target is blending technology into its digital experience. Source: Shutterstock

Target is blending technology into its digital experience. Source: Shutterstock

How Target is using tech to help communities shop better

RETAILERS have had a tough few years so far as technology disrupted how consumers browsed and bought daily necessities, everyday essentials, and even luxury items.

Given the volume of discounts offered by e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Lazada, many believed that the traditional retail industry had no future.

Truth be told, a few did go bust — but the industry seems to be fighting back, wooing customers into stores again, promising to provide them with better prices and delight them with smarter, intelligent, and more personalized experiences.

Balancing the price/experience tightrope isn’t really the biggest challenge, however. As the dust settles, retailers and e-commerce players are increasingly finding that the most important thing to customers is convenience.

To better understand what retailers need to do to survive in the digital era, Tech Wire Asia caught up with Target Data Product Engineer David Nguyen ahead of his presentation at Cloud Expo Asia in Singapore.

Target, the US retail giant, went toe to toe with digital natives and e-commerce giants that came after its business, and although things were difficult for the first few years, the company seems to have turned the tide in its favor as far as “using technology to provide discounts”, “better shopping experiences”, and “convenience” are concerned.

“The boundary between the online shopping experience and physical in-store experience has been blurred. Customers might place an order online and want to pick up in-store or ask for goods to be delivered the next day. They might also choose to go to the store because of the experience it offers. It’s entirely up to them,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen explains that over time, as Target has built its e-commerce experience from the ground up, it has realized that providing customers with a blended experience is more important when it comes to convenience.

Ultimately, that blended experience is what provides maximum choice to customers — the choice to browse products online or in the aisle of a nearby store, add products to a physical or virtual cart, or ask for delivery as soon as possible or at a future date — and choice is no longer a luxury.

Nguyen, in his role at Target, has access to plenty of data and yet, believes that mock-ups of user experiences that only factor in the digital aspects isn’t helpful.

“We provide a blended experience at Target, and so, our user experience mock-ups also had to make the transition so we could plan our experiences and customer journeys better.”

The work that Nguyen and his colleagues are doing seems to be greatly benefiting the retail giant as the Data Product Engineer reported a 30 to 35 percent year on year growth in online sales this year.

Communities, not just stores or fulfillment centers

One of the things that Nguyen emphasized is the fact that Target is focused on building communities and guaranteeing a high touch experience — something that shoppers, millennials and families alike, can enjoy.

That focus has caused the boundary between stores and fulfillment centers to “completely evaporate“.

Target, Nguyen reveals, has extensively worked in-house on its digital infrastructure to create a solution that allows team members from a stores’ workforce to pick out orders for customers based on lists they see on tablets and mobile devices.

Doing so enables stores to use their workforce to go out and deliver goods to customers or prepare them for curbside pick-up, streamlining the shopping process and providing a much more convenient experience overall.

Other members of the workforce are trained to provide a good in-store experience to customers.

“Customers often come in looking for a gift for mothers day or maybe some makeup. Our in-store consultants can provide them with the right advice — and that’s the high touch experience that keeps them coming back.”

“Sure, a part of that is something they can get via AR and VR, and that’s also something we’ll provide to customers but the high-touch experience, the blended shopping experience, the convenience, that’s ultimately the key to winning the customer’s heart and building a community.”

While the focus is on the customer, the efforts that Target is making also suggests that the retailer’s strategy ensures that employees are upskilled to do jobs that won’t be replaced by robots in coming months, if at all those jobs are at risk due to digitization in the future.