In our first episode of VisionCast, Will Vinton, Sr. Director, Head of Digital Consulting with Tauseef Muhammad, VP & Head of Marketing, had a candid conversation and revealed the key trends that will benefit retailers of all sizes in 2023 and what business and technological shifts are required. Explore key trends such as customer-centric shopping journeys, seamless experiences, and a blend of online and in-store shopping that will shape the future of the retail industry.
Tauseef Muhammad: Hey guys, buckle up for the first episode of vision cast, the podcast that will bring you all the latest and greatest technology trends from technology leaders, from supply chain to retail, whether it's cloud transformation, digital enablement, or latest trends on data and AI. I'm your host Tauseef, and today, we are touching the most burning topic in the retail world, the changing buying behavior and the revolutionary transformation in the online channels. Is it traditional retail debt, or is it different, with Will Vinton, Senior Director vision net, we will also have a few dad jokes, so make sure you listen all the way through, on that note, let's just go to it. So, Will welcome to our first podcast, you must set the bar super high. So, no pressure here. So, besides that how are you today?
Will Vinton: I'm doing well. I appreciate being here. I'm going to do my best to set the bar high for the first ever inaugural podcast. And I brought some dad jokes that you showed me up in our little dry run we had last week. So, I came prepared today. So, at the end of this show, we're going to have to ask whoever was kind enough to sit through this and watch us for 30 minutes.
What is Visionet?
Tauseef Muhammad: Let's do that. Why don't you just start with, what is Visionet? can you just quickly give us an elevator pitch of what Visionet does?
Will Vinton: We do a lot of things you see. But it's a great question. The boilerplate answer is that we are a global systems integrator. We are a global company that has a reach within digital data and AI and cloud and DevOps. I sit in the digital side, where we focus on commerce, retail CPG, as well as real contents, content management, customer data platforms, marketing, automation, and much more. And then on the data and AI side, we have folks who are focused on obviously reporting integration, AI and ML, which is becoming a very hot, exciting topic. And then on the cloud side, from your infrastructure, your security, compliance, and DevOps. So, we do a lot here at Vision net, but we are even though we have you know, a big team and, and we can do so many things, we are still kind of your neighborhood, IT consulting partner, we love to interact and build those long-term partnerships and relationships with our clients. So, we are at a quick little intro.
What does “mushrooming” mean in tech?
Tauseef Muhammad: Awesome. Welcome and let's just get to it, as you say, you're working on a digital site, I'm sure, you interact with a lot of retailers and do lot of different good work. But let me just start with one interesting question, I just keep reading about that the online channels are mushrooming, what does that even mean, and how can we explain it to the consumer or the companies that what mushrooming means?
Will Vinton: what mushrooming really means is, it refers to the rapid growth and kind of proliferation of online shopping platforms. So, if you look around, we're seeing just an abundance of marketplaces, and shopping platforms and new areas to buy products and interact with brands, whether it's your social and all the opportunities with social commerce these days, your livestream selling your Metaverse selling or your traditional, ecommerce, and retail, and then everything in between. So, it's really that concept that, hey, it's mushrooming, and kind of creating this big, cloud or umbrella of retail. But it also means that they're popping up right mushrooms after a big rainstorm. They'll pop up and sprout up everywhere after a good rain. So, speaking of mushrooms, why did the mushroom go to the party? Because he's a fun guy. Magic number one. We have more and more businesses in the online channel, we have more and more businesses focused on social media and websites and apps and reaching their customers wherever they need to be reached, which means there's more and more data, there's more and more channels for this mushrooming to take place. So, we're just seeing an abundance of areas for consumers to shop and interact with brands. And I think that's going to be a challenging thing for a lot of brands to keep organized and centralized and understand who their customers are and keep a hold of their customer data. So that's really what that means.
Changes in user behavior after COVID-19.
Tauseef Muhammad: This topic has been discussed a lot of times: after the pandemic, what happened to retail? If you can just quickly touch upon, that how the user behavior changed after the pandemic, people, just going crazy, going to the store and just buying, stocking up the toilet papers and all the thing, but do you see the shift? is it shifting back? What do you see after this retail transformation perspective?
Will Vinton: So, it's a good question, because I think it highlights some things about how we view the market and how we make investments. Because over the last decade, decade plus, obviously, we've seen a huge adoption in digital, all brands were moving and pushing towards getting into E commerce or onto digital channels, even if they're not an E commerce brand. But all retail for sure, it was trying to push towards digital. And then we saw the pandemic hit, which just accelerate 5,10 years into the future. A lot of people were saying, this is never going to go back, it's going to stay digital, it's going to stay where it is right now. And they were all right, we did see a big amount of people starts heading back to the stores, maybe it was because they were cooped up inside for two years, and through some still going in three years in. But for the most part, a lot of people started to get back out and get into the store. But what's interesting is that even though they started going back to the store, those experiences that they had online for the last two years, and that accelerated growth, they still have those expectations. So, they want beautiful experiences, they want fast, easy, intuitive checkouts where you don't have to interact with a retail sales associate or any other person to help check out, so their expectations have changed they are expecting more from an experience perspective, from an ease of use and education perspective than ever before. So, our world, this retail world is evolving. And we can make predictions about where it's going to go and where it's going to settle. But I think the concept of omni channel is and what it is it's evolved with connected commerce and really making that experience across all omni channel touchpoints. Rather than just being there is what's going to settle in as where we need to be making our investments. But we need to be ready for change, right? Because we had this happen and something else is going to happen, the change is going to be even more abrupt. So, our retail world is evolving. Like I said, kind of like a chameleon and, what's the chameleon's favorite game? Hide, hide and seek but they're always spotted.
Omni channel and home retail shops selling online
Tauseef Muhammad: So, you mentioned omni channel. And that's something very interesting, there's a lot of trends happening in social commerce and social selling, which nowadays, I will say, every household could potentially be a retail store. So, do you see that consumers are now more interested in end-to-end product lifecycle, or do they want to know more about the product because they are also potentially in home retails shop, selling online, and how this online selling is trending?
Will Vinton: So, this is really where we see that mushrooming term, we talked about earlier this is what you just mentioned exactly. We're starting to see all these different channels for everybody, even individuals who used to just be consumers and customers can now become stores, they can now become places where people can check out because either they're an influencer, or they have a big group of friends or they have a lot of friends on Facebook who are willing to interact with them about brands, and these people are starting to build their own customer base, and we're seeing this a lot in the social media. Obviously, in Asia, we're seeing a huge trend in the live commerce that over the last few years has gone through the roof in terms of the amount of revenue we've seen gone through their live shot commerce channels, us here in the West, we haven't necessarily adopted that as much, most likely because our attention spans are not really suited towards an hour long live stream where someone is trying to sell us a product. Rather, we're much more suited to the short form video so your Instagram reels and your Tiktok’s and your stories. So those people in our own industry or in our, countries in the West who are building those building those markets and those audiences, they all have something in common, something that is drawing them to this person, whether it's a mom group or it's someone about sustainability, who's, an eco-friendly person or something. So, These people all have things that they care about whether it's, the moms caring about, this product is manufactured in a warehouse that maybe has BPA in it? Well, we don't want that. Obviously, we don't want any of our plastic and BPA, or the sustainability of this other product is not right. So more than ever, we're seeing that people are starting to care about this full lifecycle of product, either because they care themselves or because the group of people that they're in from a social media perspective, also care, and that's the type of stuff that they're pushed, we've seen a sustainability be more important than ever, especially around how it's ethically sourced, and I really wanted to tell you a joke about sustainability, a dad joke, but I didn't want to waste your time.
Trends changing in a supply chain
Tauseef Muhammad: This is a very good point, and from a technology perspective, I just want to ask that with all the social selling, and all the consumer, not just the end user, but the consumer is so concerned about what they are purchasing, and potentially they are reselling it, through social channel. So, is it from a technology perspective, are those different retailers or manufacturer distributor, what they are doing? You see the trend changing in a supply chain, both upstream and downstream, how this connected supply chain, being in place to cater this new audience that is out there in the market.
Will Vinton: Supply chain is obviously one of those areas, that's seen a tremendous amount of challenges over the last few years, and they need to adapt, and brands need to adapt, and people who are in the industry need to understand who's selling the product and where it's going. So what we're seeing from a technology perspective, is AI and ML based tools that do predictive analytics that can help you with better warehousing better stocking, making sure you have the right product predicting, based on 1000s of different factors where your certain products are going to be sold, and by what persona of people, and what groups of people are going to be buying it and when are they most active,1000s of different things that can influence that, and there are tools out there that can get you very accurate predictions on how to best stock and how to best, set up your warehouses to deliver in the shortest amount of time, and have the best, or the most relevant type of product for these customers. The other aspect is less technology, and more just transparency. A lot of people myself included, when we shop, what's most important to us is really knowing when we're going to get our product. And that's a big problem, when you go through some of these, smaller retailers, or even some of these individuals who are selling their, reselling product, or, making their own little startup and trying to go that way, they don't have the technology to be transparent. So, it's important for consumers and those expectations to be transparent, if you can tell a consumer that they are not going to be able to get this product within the time that they want. But there's some other products that they can, that's a good experience, and they might not care about when they get their product. So, making sure that we're just transparent and we give them the tools to be able to do it themselves and check themselves is what's going to separate people from the competitors.
How technology is changing company-customer interactions
Tauseef Muhammad: From a commerce perspective, how the companies are reaching out because it's now multiple channels that can potentially sell from an omni channel perspective. So, from your side of the aisle, from digital consulting or digital side, how do you see, that the content that they are producing, or the technology enabled, they are putting in forward? Is it helping or is it evolving? Do you see any trend change in there as well?
Will Vinton: Are you specifically asking about e commerce and E commerce technology? The technology might be just an opinion of mine, but we're starting to see some technology that is really changing the way consumers interact with websites in the way that consumers check out and buy products. But for the most part, it's still pretty much the same. If you look at your top visited your top purchased websites, Amazon included it follows a very similar user journey, You start with landing on their website, then identify your product through search or through navigating their information architecture and their categories yourself until you find what you're looking for, then you may compare prices, you look at the details, and then you add it to cart and checkout. That is how the web works today when it comes to online purchasing. But my opinion is that it needs to evolve. If we look at brick and mortar retail, for example, and you look across the industries, there are different ways to check out, if you brought it up, In previous conversation with me, when we look at online or when we look at grocery store checkout, we're going through self-checkout, and it's a very good experience, when we look at car buying, maybe it's not a great experience, but that's completely different when we look at going to a grocery store, when we talk about buying clothing, and we're at J Crew or, banana republic or wherever, and we're talking about getting a hands on style, as we're going through the process. But when we look at those industries online, it's all pretty much the same with maybe the exception of the car industry and a couple other industries that have begun innovating and how you get your product, they haven't really done that broadly. And I think that's an important aspect to how we can evolve online technology to be more personalized and more apropos for these customers and consumers when they're interacting with the brand. It's all going to be about education, it's going to be about ease of use. And it's going to be about making sure that the product that we're suggesting or that this person is buying is correct. In a lot of situations, they could be buying the wrong things. And then that's going to lead to higher returns, and you don't have that human touch that you have in store. So how do we close the gap and it's going to be through AI it's going to be through guided selling is going to be through education. But we have to figure that out. Because candidly, ecommerce is a little bit behind in the checkout experience from other industries.
Tauseef Muhammad: Did you know, the biggest online retailer has started selling steak? Amazon Prime!
Will Vinton: Ah, there you go.
Transitions happening in eCommerce world
Tauseef Muhammad: So, you mentioned about the Amazon, and there's something that's interesting came up to my mind that all those different retailers, in 2003, 04, 05, I noticed that time, I was working with one of the organizations like notes of fortune 10 organization doing the entire district transformation, especially on the E commerce experience, and at that time, I studied one of the reports from Gartner that Sears was leading this transformation from omni channel perspective, from store pickup to rewards and all those things, and eventually, what happened is that they just went bankrupt, and one of the reasons they say, they invested a lot on a digital side. And they forgot about the retail experience, which trigger, because they were selling electronics and items, which people like to go and see, feel, touch, and then buy it rather online. Now, the question is, there are retailers who are moving away from brick and mortar, but the online giants like Amazon, they are building the stores, brick and mortar stores. So, where do you see a transition happening? Because, if you provide a better customer experience, it doesn't matter your brick and mortar or online, it's just a shift in the trend or changing something around.
Will Vinton: It's a great question again, we are seeing this kind of interesting, dichotomy, in digitally native companies versus brick-and-mortar native companies, and where are they going to ultimately end up from, a balanced perspective, and I think really balanced is the important word here. And it kind of goes back to that first question we were talking about earlier, too, which is, we made a lot of predictions. And I think Sears made a big prediction that digital was going to happen a lot faster than maybe they thought, and maybe they were about 10 years too early, If you think about all the investment they had made, and the pandemic comes around a little sooner, that probably could have been a nice win for them in terms of when they were able to make that investment, but yeah, it's really about balance. We can't put all our eggs in one basket and think that just because consumer behavior shifted during the pandemic, it's going to stay that way. We can't just say okay, now we have to go all in on digital, but at the same time, we can't not go in on digital at all, because we are seeing this evolution in this expectation from an Omni Channel perspective that we need to be where our customer needs us all the time. And even take it a step further than omni channel, it needs to be a connected commerce, we need to have that experience be seamless and the experience be consistent, no matter where they're interacting with us. And that Canvas is evolved, It's infinitely evolved. And we've seen the evolution from just brick and mortar to the web to mobile to applications to, even chatbots and interacting in that space. And then now we're seeing a little over the last couple years, we saw the metaverse and, other things that are just coming down the line and we need to be prepared. But we need to be prepared to not go all in, we need to make those efforts we need to test we need to learn. But all the balance is always going to lie with our consumers. We need to see what our customers are doing. What is the data that they're, telling us that they want to do? And let's run focus groups, let's run tests and find out where they want to be and where do they want to interact with us. And then we can create the perfect recipe to build that balance across all of these, Omni channel connected commerce, infinite canvas experiences, we just need the right ingredients. And that reminds me, why did the baker go to therapy?
Tauseef Muhammad: Why is that?
Will Vinton: Because he needed it. He just couldn't find the right mix of ingredients for a balanced life.
Amazon being a benchmark in eCommerce world
Tauseef Muhammad: Awesome. Well, you touched upon a little bit of the in-store experience, which is a surprise, I'm not surprised, I would say, everyone now has become a cashier. When you're going to any stores, you're just checking out yourself, weighing in all those fresh products and all those things, and then it's sort of a very good experience, and it's easy to understand, because everyone is doing it, and especially in Walmart, you will find very few cashiers that like no self-checkout, you are a design expert, you run a lot of design thinking exercises, with different companies, and what I see is that the online experience, which is an ecommerce experience, is still, not as optimized as the industry checkout. Why is it that the retailers are not focusing on providing a better ecommerce experience, like Amazon, being a benchmark, creating the experience, but not everyone is following that. Do you see a difference in how this is trending and changing?
Will Vinton: I don't, I see a huge difference, and that's my opinion, they are my own. But there's a big gap between some in store checkout experiences, and online checkout experiences. When we look at your point, grocery stores and their self-checkout experiences, which are great, let's look at Amazon GO, and their stores where you don't even have to talk to anyone, you don't even have to pull out your phone, you just walk in and grab your products and leave. Let's look at the Apple Store completely different experience. There're people everywhere, but it's all done right on their little phone and the machine that they have on the back, you don't have to go to a checkout register, you don't have to go anywhere. Let's look at car buying and all these other things. There's a different experience, and I talked about this a little bit earlier. But we haven't seen that same level of personalization across industries, online, that we have within brick and mortar. I do think that there are very bad in-store experiences. I mean, there's plenty of places where you go where you are transacting in a retail environment that are, not good, you're waiting in lines, you're not getting any of the help you need from the associate who's there, and you can't do your own research because there's no internet connection and things like that. But there are stores that have figured it out. And they have a little bit more flexibility to do this personalization and create these great experiences than you do on the web. Because you can do it all through people, and a little bit of technology, technology helps. But people can make that difference on the web, and in E commerce experiences. You don't have the people so how do we create a checkout and experience that is going to rival what they have in store, and it's going to be in our consumer data, and we got to look at what our customers want and analyze that. But I think you mentioned it a little bit earlier to see if I mean design thinking is a great tool and framework to use. It's really meant to put the customer and their needs and their feelings and empathize with them right at the forefront of any product development design that you do. So, these are ways that you can look at who your customer is, build your persona, know about them understand their journeys, and then create experiences that are going to delight them that are going to innovate and separate yourself from the competitor. Because right now, as I said on one of the questions earlier, all online experiences with the exception of a couple industries are pretty much the same. And when I'm buying a $2,000, mattress versus a $15 t shirt, and I'm doing the same checkout experience, that seems a little bit weird, especially considering, I want to have a lot more knowledge and a lot more info about this mattress that I'm going to spend, three years at least of the next 10 Sleeping in, it's a big purchase, where's the t shirt, I can get rid of it. But that's the same checkout experience. So, we need to differentiate, we need to educate, we need to look at our data and test and figure out how can we create online experiences that are personalized and revolutionary, just like people are doing in store with self-checkout with Apple style, and with Amazon Go style. There's a need for it. And we haven't seen that yet. But it's going to come because of the adoption of AI and ML, and it’s use across e commerce and beyond, because it's going to make it a lot easier for us when we can use that to identify trends, identify opportunities and build products.
Buyer behavior in different regions.
Tauseef Muhammad: Will, I want to ask you one more question as Visionet is a global company, and we have a global audience listening to it. You work with Europe and US, in different regions you have worked with different retailers. Do you see any difference in buying behavior or shopping behavior, which retailers are looking into it? Are their strategies different in those regions? Can you just talk about how this is different and what retailers are doing to enable that experience.
Will Vinton: Absolutely. There is 100% difference in buying trends from market to market and from region to region, even as different as US versus Canada, we have some Canadian clients, and we have some US clients, and we have some US clients that want to expand into Canada, and you can't just do it the same way you're doing it in the US and Canada, you can't do it the same way you were doing it in Europe and try to expand in the US and think that you're going to just be successful. It really starts with understanding who your customer is, and what their lifestyle is. We obviously know that in some European countries, it's very common for them to go to the grocery store every single day. And they'll go to the grocery store, they'll pick up their food for the day, and they'll come home, and they will make all their food in the US. Some people don't go to the grocery store for two weeks. It's a completely different ballgame. So, you got to think about who your consumer is, what their actions are, do your research, talk to them, watch them. This whole concept of conceptual and ethnographic research is very important. Because a lot of times you ask consumers questions, you ask people questions, they're going to have a bias when they answer, but when they act, it might be a little bit different. So, let's watch them in their natural state, whether that's, watching someone interact with the website, watching someone interact in their daily life, and really analyze that and use those patterns and those trends that they have to, leverage and influence what you built in on the comments, separate yourself. So, it's very different. We need to look at the trends, we need to look at the data. We need to do design thinking and put those people at the forefront of what we're building where we're building. And that's an important key I didn't touch on earlier, where are we building? Could it be different?
Tauseef Muhammad: On the new year, I went to the store and two guys, stole the calendar. They both got six months, so I couldn't help it, it was a very good conversation. And I'm sure there's a lot of different questions and you have to promise to come back again, I'm sure, our audience enjoyed it, and guys, if you have any questions, you can send an email to us at info at Visionet.com or you can leave it at the comment box Will is more than welcome to, answer all your guests question. Until next time, thank you everyone for joining vision cast, and I hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you have any feedback about our next show, or you want to touch upon some other topics for us, please do share your thoughts. Any feedback is welcome. Again. Thank you, and also, please do comment which joke you like the best, or you think all the jokes were dead corny jokes, we have to work on those things. Thank you. Have a good one and hope you enjoy them. Thanks.
Will Vinton: Thanks, Tauseef, see you everybody.
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