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Here’s What to Expect for Retail in a Post-Digital World, Accenture Says

CES market research VP Steve Koenig calling our current reality the “data age.” If you ask Accenture, it’s the “post-digital era.”

No matter what you call it, the near future will be transformational for many business. As we teeter on the cusp of a new decade, seismic shifts are underway as the technologies that ruled the 20-aughts and teens—social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC)—lay the foundation for even more impactful technological leaps and meaningful connectivity, according to Accenture’s Technology Vision 2019 report.

“Leaders looking for a head start on the future must consider the revolutionary successes of SMAC technologies and strive to replicate their impact,” Accenture said.

The report, “The Post-Digital Era Is Upon Us. Are You Ready for What’s Next?,” dives into the next phase of innovation and advancement that consumers expect and enterprises must be prepared to deliver. For example, Accenture believes companies will evolve from one-time transactional consumer relationships into a sort of continuous feedback loop, all for the goal of improving the customer experience and building services and products that better meet customer needs.

“[Businesses] are moving beyond personalized products to individualized experiences, creating a one-to-one relationship with each customer where technology plays the starring and ever-present role,” Accenture said.

Of course, companies run the risk of overstepping the line between invited guest and overbearing boor, especially as privacy concerns continue to dominate the technology conversation, the report warned. With the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation less than a year ago, “the honeymoon of unlimited technological access [to consumers] is over,” Accenture said.

Still, people want to be known and many expect to receive personalized services or products, though the definition of tailored-for-me depends on individual preferences.

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Twenty percent of people would ditch a brand if its personalization efforts were deemed too creepy and an equal number would spread the word to their social circle. But on the other hand, personalization can drive notable business results. Roughly half of shoppers have made an unplanned purchase based on a brand’s personalized recommendation, the report said.

Personalization could come down to an individual’s technological identity or “digital demographics,” Accenture noted, pointing to all of the choices people make that contain clues to who they are as consumers. From the kind of phone you carry—or don’t—to the location tracking services you enable, all of these behaviors, preferences and choices say something about how you want, or don’t, businesses to interact with you. A shift away from the rote demographic targeting that focuses on age, gender, race and ethnicity—variables you didn’t choose—stands to help organizations get smarter about connecting with the right potential customers. In fact, Accenture found that 83 percent of business and IT executives believe digital demographics unlock new ways to “identify market opportunities for unmet customer needs.”

To understand their consumers, businesses must pay close attention not only to the technologies they adopt but also to how they use them—and then deliver on these use cases accordingly, especially when people haven’t quite gotten to where businesses want them to be. Take voice assistant technology as an example; ordering food (17 percent) lags more mundane but popular applications like playing music (70 percent) or asking the assistant to manage smart home devices (31 percent), indicating consumers’ preference for less commerce-related voice activities at the moment.

Today we talk about exciting technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain (or distributed ledger technology) and virtual and augmented reality (taken together as extended reality, or XR) but Accenture believes tech in combination will enable, and is already delivering, even more powerful results. Microsoft, for example, and supply tracking vendor Advents partnered to build a blockchain-based, AI-powered platform for product tracking that offers improved transparency, traceability and security while keeping counterfeits at bay.

Becoming a fully digital, agile organization is still the endpoint for many organizations right now, especially in fashion. Reaching the next level will require trial, experimentation and partnering with specialized experts ready to lend their expertise.

“Whether companies opt to compete within multiple ecosystems, or forge and focus on their own, is an increasingly critical question for future strategies,” Accenture said.