The case for data and artificial intelligence in retail & consumer goods

19 October 2021 4 min. read

Consumer habits have changed – and whether we like it or not, these changes are here to stay. With the lives of consumers upended by Covid-19 and long-term trends accelerated in the space of mere months, there have been substantial and lasting changes in the way people live, work and shop. 

Today, retailers are trying to keep pace with ever-evolving consumer demand for an always-on, personalised experience. This has increased the pressure on retailers to accelerate the development of future-fit retail experiences. Cloud, data and AI are key to supporting the next generation of omnichannel shopping experiences and recognising this is the first step to transformation. 

Through our work at the Accenture-Google Cloud Data & AI (AGDA) initiative, we’ve identified key obstacles that many retailers and consumer goods and services companies face. Most critically, these businesses need to overcome a significant stumbling block: their back-office systems. To create living systems for retail organisations, front-end platforms need to be tightly integrated with inventory, billing, and other back-office systems. 

Fabio Vacirca, Senior Managing Director, Accenture

Yet for most retailers, integration today means slow interactions across disparate legacy systems with limited ability to act in real-time. And these legacy systems do not necessarily refer to old code or antiquated systems. They could also refer to modern applications and associated services that are no longer relevant to the business. 

Companies still reliant on legacy systems find this particularly challenging, but to compete, they need to act now. How can data and AI support businesses in retail and consumer products and services to improve customer experience? 

Reinvent the customer experience

Ever-changing consumer demand has only intensified during the global pandemic. In a recent study from Accenture, the researchers found that 65% of consumers said the pandemic has changed their online buying behaviours. Even during this incredibly challenging economic environment, significant opportunities exist for retailers to adopt advanced technologies to jumpstart business initiatives and create a new gold standard for how they engage with consumers. 

Retailers must be able to utilise data and analytics to re-orient their focus to become truly customer-centric. By moving away from predominantly store and product-based metrics to consider customer behaviour and profitability, retailers can make more informed decisions to drive top-line growth, achieve margin expansion, and reinvent the customer experience

Retailers can utilise AI for example, to understand shoppers’ tastes, wants and behaviours in real-time. With this foundation, retailers would be able to identify key factors driving individual customer profitability statements, as well as run “what-if” scenario simulations to improve future performance by attracting and retaining high-value customers much more efficiently and effectively. 

Building a stronger supply chain

A major concern facing many retail and consumer products and services’ supply chains during a time of disruption would be the challenges of delayed shipments. A likely scenario for many: pre-orders are stacking up, merchandises are on the line and yet no one in the company knows exactly what the delay means for the business. 

This is why retailers have to continually and responsibly reset their businesses to thrive in a world that is changing fast. Data can be the anchor to guide retailers through the nature of post-pandemic retail, one that is riddled with disruptions to supply chain systems, changing consumer behaviours and market trends.

To address the problem, retail leaders will need to focus on migrating to cloud, data governance and management. By embedding intelligent operations at the heart of a customer-centred supply chain, retailers would be able to leverage advanced analytics to help optimise existing and future supply chain real estate, including those at stores and distribution centres. 

This way, retailers are much closer to unleashing data as a strategic asset to improve customer experience, innovation, operations and growth. 

Further reading: Redesign Chinese supply chains with customers at the core

Breaking free from legacy

The reality is that most retail businesses are still too hard-wired and static to quickly flex and evolve and have long grown too dependent on traditional models. Retailers and consumer goods and services decision makers need to look to break free of their constraints through cloud, data and AI adoption and drive transformation that will support the business to grow and thrive in any economic conditions.

About the author: Fabio Vacirca is a Senior Managing Director at Accenture and Market Unit Group Lead for the ASIAM region: Australia and New Zealand, Africa, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.