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Aptos Exec Says Consumer Trust and Personalization Are Retail’s Top Challenges

As prevalent as digital interaction has become, some retailers are still struggling to get it right online.

According to Nikki Baird, vice president of retail innovation for retail software firm Aptos, many retailers fundamentally misunderstand how consumers want to engage in the digital and social spheres.

At NRF’s Big Show, Baird told Sourcing Journal she often hears retailers lament that they want to be more digital—but that when they try to buy the best adwords out there, they find that deep-pocketed competitors like eBay have already snapped them up—and thus pushed up keyword prices all around. They “can’t afford to win at the keyword level,” they groan.

But is that really how consumers shop? Are keywords and adwords how they engage? Is that the experience they want?

Baird believes some of the excitement over social commerce might be misplaced. Social has its place in the path to purchase but Baird says networks like Instagram and Snapchat are where brands must seize the opportunity to show their “human side.”

“Are you going to be the jerk human” who’s always trying to push products, she asked, or take on the role of the helpful, friendly advisor whose effortless cool is what attracts people to the brand?

“That’s the opportunity for social,” Baird noted, adding, “If you expect to win with buying the keywords, you’ve already lost. You’re just another search result on a page. You have to expose that personality through digital.”

This is what led Baird to declare 2019 as the year when consumer trust becomes a front-and-center concern for retail businesses. Coupled with the continuing aftermath of GDPR’s implementation in the European Union and similar legislation under consideration in a number of U.S. states, retailers are navigating delicate new terrain with unfamiliar rules of engagement.

Consumer trust also factors into the personalization equation, which Baird described as most promising in the context of the retail store (personalization’s already been done in the data-rich online environment so no need to reinvent the wheel, she explained).

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“The store is our heritage and it’s where the pain is the greatest in retail,” Baird noted.

The concept of personalizing the in-store experience is so tricky, because what personalization means to one shopper could be the complete opposite of what another person wants. Plus, Baird said, today most retailers seem content to personalize to the smartphone—not to the human, which means efforts rely on blasting out mobile messages and offers the moment a smart device enters a store, regardless of whether its owner is a discount-seeker or not.

Even something as basic as knowing whether an in-store shopper’s last contact with the retailer was negative or positive (a lengthy chat with the call center, perhaps) is a form of personalization, Baird said, and could help a store associate know what kind of handling that customer might expect.

Rising customer expectations are evident in the kinds of technology shoppers assume should be powering their store experiences (you can probably thank Apple for that). Plus, retailers are grappling with the death knell for Windows 7, the platform behind many business systems, and cash registers that simply cannot accommodate today’s omnichannel shopping standard, splitting into two any transactions involving ship-to-home purchases along with in-store stock.

Like many vendors in the retail arena, Aptos pivoted toward microservices last year as the foundation for Aptos One, its commerce platform that puts mobility first in keeping with how associates and shoppers are engaging in stores. Baird said retailers appreciate that the flexible, future-proofed architecture behind Aptos One means they’ll never have to “rip and replace” their point of sale again.

Michael Kors, among the first to deploy Aptos One, plans to pilot its first store in May, implement across U.S. outlet stores as the first deployment phase, and eventually expand to locations across all 19 countries where it operates, Baird added.