“Liquid Big Data”: a new source of competitive advantage for high street retailers?

Many high street retailers in the UK are experiencing falling footfall in their physical stores as customers increasingly switch to online competitors for better convenience, choice and prices.

One way retailers combat these disruptors is by analysing their customers’ buying behaviours to identify new ways to further differentiate their in-store and digital offerings – for example, using insights from loyalty card data to target offers at individual customers.

Yet such an approach gathers data from isolated, self-contained engagements that only form one part of a customer’s time spent on the high street shopping – the customer experience as a set of disjointed silos versus the seamless, end-to-end personalised experience of buying online. Arguably this fragmented engagement is also one of the root causes driving customers away from physical retail stores.

One way to potentially address this challenge is by competing retailers sharing real-time, dynamic in-store customer browsing and buying behaviour data. This free flowing – “liquid” – Big Data would enable collaborating retailers to make on-the-spot offers and other personalised engagements to a customer directly in their stores based on an individual’s wants or needs that day; creating moments of customer delight not even possible when buying online (with the added bonus that purchased products are available to take home immediately). This co-opetition model would be mutually beneficial to all with any revenues from sales (direct, cross or up-selling, etc.) attributable to this process being split equitably across participating retailers.

An example of this model could be a “Virtual High Street Assistant” – a mobile app that a customer opts in to that gathers data about their behaviour across different high street stores (such as recording any purchases made using Mobile Payments or by detecting IoT sensors in labels of products being browsed). Cloud Analytics is continuously, rapidly analysing this data for insights like identifying cross or up-selling opportunities to complement goods already brought, the price a specific customer is likely to pay for an item they have been browsing across different stores and potential Social Media activities that could promote further engagement. Based on their smartphone’s GPS location, suitable insights (like nearby relevant special offers) are then shared with a customer via the app. In addition, analytics aggregates different customers’ data to identify any buying trends on the high street that day and makes recommendations to participating retailers about how to best exploit these sales opportunities.

This notion of Big Data as “liquid” that can be shared (rather than solid, hidden in one organisation’s silo) is not without considerable challenges and barriers.  In addition to technology, there is a range of legal and security issues affecting the use of personal data in such a model. However, UK Health and Social agencies have been pioneering new ways to share highly sensitive patient data across different organisational boundaries to improve services. Learning from this experience could help build a compelling business case to fund a pilot to test the risks and benefits of “Liquid Big Data”.

If you would like more information about how Digital Transformation can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

New kids on the blockchain

At Sopra Steria we often talk about a world ‘beyond digital’. This is so that we can help our clients to prepare themselves and their organisations for the challenges they are likely to face looking out three to five years into the future.

I shared some of the topics we have identified for a world beyond digital with an audience of digital and eCommerce professionals at a Thought Leaders of the North West event a couple of weeks ago. Our themes seemed to resonate with those in the room prompting plenty of discussion and debate.

One theme attracting a lot of interest was the ongoing challenge we face in the world of Information Security, where we see protection from attack being built into new products and services from the ground up rather than as an afterthought.

We also see an emerging era of unprecedented corporate responsiveness and agility as industry giants look to iterate their business models ‘on-the-fly’ in response to unforeseen threats and attacks in the way Sony Pictures did recently in immediately releasing ‘The Interview’ to digital channels and abandoning its plans for a full theatrical release.

Disintermediation is another concept having an immediate impact on the way we live, work and do business. Services such as Uber and AirB’n’B are already beginning to transform different aspects of the travel industry through their creative use of the crowd, the cloud and the semantic web.

In financial services we see the ‘blockchain’ threatening to disintermediate the traditional banking industry as Bitcoin continues to gain profile and transacting in such crypto-currencies nudges its way ever closer to the mainstream.

“whilst barriers to entry are very low, barriers to mass acceptance remain incredibly high”

It was in this field, at a second technology event I attended recently that I witnessed a tense debate between an established retail bank and an up-and-coming Bitcoin podcaster.

The bank, when talking about FinTech start-ups looking to establish themselves in the emerging global Bitcoin economy, outside of a traditionally regulated banking industry, suggested that “whilst barriers to entry are very low, barriers to mass acceptance remain incredibly high”, which is the kind of thing they used to say in the music industry in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, the power of the ‘blockchain’, the virtual ledger where the crowd validates transactions without the assistance of traditional banking infrastructure and regulation, may actually be found beyond Bitcoin trading, as new and emerging use cases emerge for this technology bring it further into many people’s lives.

One such service which could be leveraged by the blockchain may be that of personal data broking, where citizens take control of the value of their own personal data and begin to firmly negotiate with local and global organisations alike based on the value of their own data as derived from their own connections, online activity and their extended social graph.

Sopra Steria is working with some of the world’s most exciting start-ups in exploring these concepts, as these ‘new kids on the blockchain’ begin to collaborate with us and our clients as, together, we continue to play a vital role in the transformation of business for a world ‘beyond digital’.

We’d love to hear how you think ‘blockchain’ technology will transform our lives. Leave a reply below, contact me by email, tim.difford@soprasteria.com or on Twitter, @timdifford

Photo: used and modified under Creative Commons license thanks to BTCKeychain

The next digital disruption: buying B2B services using social media channels?

Digital Transformation is changing how businesses interact with customers and each other.

In this environment business-to-business (B2B) service providers face the constant threat of “digital disrupters” – new entrants who don’t fundamentally change the underlying product or service but win (or steal?) market share by leveraging new ways to interact with customers/clients and suppliers.

But couldn’t an existing B2B service provider become the digital disrupter by leveraging social media to create a new, differentiated approach to market engagement to deliver sustainable competitive advantage?

Here are some (radical?) ideas…

Customer led innovation: clients could potentially benefit from best practice about digital transformation being shared rapidly from different sectors (for example, the innovative work in UK central government and retail). A service provider could use its social media channel(s) to enable this sharing in an intuitive, dynamic way tailored to specific client needs. Furthermore, the provider could use gamification to incentivise the sharing of insights, advise directly between companies (such as discounting its services for clients providing such support). This would help position the B2B service provider’s brand as a collaborative thought leader in digital transformation.

Deepening personalisation: a provider could engage directly in all the social media activity of a client (at all levels including organisational, team and individual). Although there is a risk of appearing intrusive, it’s a way of building more intimate relationships with existing clients and sourcing new ones. This would also pro-actively complement and enhance other sales and account management approaches it uses.

Intensifying responsiveness: undoubtedly radical and reputationally risky, clients could post their complaints, issues and other feedback directly on a B2B service provider’s social media channels. The value comes from how the provider deals with these issues openly in this public space; a positive opportunity to explicitly demonstrate its strong commitment to quality service delivery.

Buy buttons: underlying these social media channel approaches would be the tools to enable a client to contact a sales representative immediately to purchase the provider’s services. Depending on the agility of the provider, potentially these services could be bought and stood up on the same day – now that’s digital transformation!

If you would like to find out more about how digital transformation can benefit your business, please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.