Why Digital Transformation May Be the Independent Retailer’s Last Best Hope

Digital Transformation has been touching just about every industry in all kinds of ways but maybe none more than retail. Over the last decade there has been a rapid pace of digitization in retail and as the bigger players such as Amazon, Target and McDonalds have the wherewithal to drive it fast and hard, the independent brick and mortar retailer (IBMR) is struggling to keep up.

So, the question weighs on the minds of those in the micro retail space — will the independent retailer still be here in a few years as they struggle to apply technology to their business and to compete with the big boxes of the world?

Digital transformation may be the last great hope for IBMRs to remain relevant and even excel and be more competitive. But they are going to need a little help along the way from technology solutions providers such as Avalara, Restaurant.com, SWIPEBY and Toast. As best of breed vendors work more closely together to provide a technology ecosystem to meet the needs of IBMRs, there is great promise that indeed the more nimble, resolute retailers that understand there are autonomous, affordable technology solutions out there to fill the void will succeed.

The retail industry has already started seeing the dwindling number of IBMRs in communities as the major chains swept in with a competitive advantage in most areas, but predominantly in consumer convenience and customer experience. Sadly, this meant communities and neighborhoods were becoming homogenized and cookie-cutter without the authentic culture and diverse choices that IBMRs bring to them.

Most people can appreciate the difference between grab-and-go food at a Taco Bell or the manufactured fun at a Chili’s and that of an authentic mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant serving house-made cuisine. Or even the welcome from a Circle K clerk versus a 25-store convenience-store chain run by a regional business with a family-feel culture. The understand the difference between a Kroger and a local Greek market with 17 varieties of feta cheese. The risk of losing the rich experiences IBMRs bring to communities around the country is only getting higher as these larger retailers play off convenience and to some degree customer experience.

Unfortunately, IBMRs have a double whammy of not understanding or having the willingness to embrace the necessary technology to bring about the digital transformation. In fact, the 2020 Small Business Digital Transformation Study by IDC for Cisco found that lack of digital skills and cultural resistance are the top two challenges for small businesses undergoing digital transformation. That same report in its executive summary states, “Digitization is no longer an option, it’s a necessity. Once considered a way for companies [small businesses] to gain competitive advantage, digitalization has now become a matter of survival.”

Fortunately, there are significant benefits in five key areas that if IBMRs can understand might just move them to embrace digital transformation:

  • Better communications – Technology allows the retailer to communicate with customers and potential customers more smoothly
  • Improve operations – As retail operational processes become digitized these processes become more seamless and efficient affecting the overall operations in a good way.
  • Improve convenience – The simplicity that digital transformation of operations internally and customer facing delivers a new level of convenience for all involved.
  • Increases sales – The fact that digital transformation creates efficiencies, provides better intelligence, and automates marketing pays off in more sales.
  • Better customer experience – Perhaps the most important payoff is improving the customer experience which research has shown delivers repeat sales and greater brand loyalty.

The current trend of consumers wanting and needing convenience will not stop, and the expectations will continue to grow. The businesses that meet convenience demands will be the ones that people will frequent and be loyal to. While many consumers would prefer a community business and know the quality of food, service, and goods are often better, they are willing to sacrifice quality for convenience.

Beyond the current cash-and-carry, curbside pickup, and drive-thru consumer expectations, IBMRs need help with what is coming in the future – what the new bar will be – so they can be unique and thrive in spite of the millions of dollars that mega chains will throw into their own digital transformations.

Mark Twain once said after a newspaper article mistakenly declared the great satirist had died that “the report of my death has been grossly exaggerated.” For the IBMRs, the discussions about their coming demise may have been “grossly exaggerated,” too. But only if they embrace digital transformation.

The more IBMRs embrace technology to benefit their stores, digital transformation will pave the way for success and a resurgence of the IBMR won’t need to be “exaggerated.” Rather, it will be a very new reality.

About the Author – Carl Turner, Founder and CEO of SWIPEBY

Founder and CEO Carl Turner started SWIPEBY in the summer of 2019 with the vision of bringing drive-thru to any business. First focusing on the restaurant industry, Carl has led SWIPEBY to expand to multiple verticals across the country. His responsibilities include leading the executive team and guiding the business as it continues to scale larger.Carl brings a truly global perspective to SWIPEBY. He was born and lived most of his life in Berlin, Germany and gained experience working with Google (Hamburg), A.T. Kearney (Dubai), and The Boston Consulting Group (Kuala Lumpur). He also co-founded SEON, a startup democratizing access to fast security response, starting with South Africa and neighboring markets. Carl holds a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Finance and Computer Science and a minor in Entrepreneurship from Wake Forest University. He also studied International Business at New York University in Shanghai. In 2021, Carl was named among the North Carolina’s Triad Business Journal’s 20 in their 20’s




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