The Future of Retail: 6 Ways the Cloud Will Reinvent the Sales Floor

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The scope of change in the retail industry is stunning. New web-based, cloud-hosted software-as-a-service solutions are making data available in real time and are poised to unite the digital and physical retail environments, disrupting the retail landscape. Here's how the needle is moving:

1. Real-time data from the sales floor. Real-time data is available across all channels and will fuel decision-making throughout the retail enterprise -- from the C-Suite to the sales floor. Retail management teams can see sales trends develop as they are developing. They can see traffic patterns in real time and be able to see conversion rates at the product level. For example, for apparel retailers -- imagine how powerful it would be to know which products are being brought into fitting rooms and then which are converted to sales.

Related: Mobile Phones Are Changing Retail. Here's How. (Infographic)

2. Real time data on the sales floor. Perhaps the most powerful impact will be on the sales floor. Retail sales is a difficult job, and it can become tedious and boring. Sales associates can become disengaged, feel isolated and disinterested. As a result, customer service suffers. Making real-time data available on the store floor can change the game.

Store associates should always know which styles have been selling on instantly consumable dashboards. Armed with this information, they will be empowered to take action to turn lagging styles into leading styles.

3. Tracking progress. Sales associates want to beat their sales goals. They love the challenge. Making inventory data available across all stores in real time allows associates to create customer orders for items they want but are not in stock in their store. Fillable orders are instantly visible and ship quickly. Credit for the sale goes to the store placing the order. Access to real-time data gives store staff the ability to watch their progress throughout the day. With this information they become more engaged in their role. Customer service will most likely improve, and daily sales plans should be beaten on a regular basis.

4. Healthy competition between associates or stores. Creating an attractive reward for the store or sales associate who has the largest sale in the month can be a great way to keep everyone engaged. Showing the leaderboard in real time across all stores allows everyone to see what it will take to be number one. Powerful.

Related: 8 Ways Retailers Should Target Smartphone Users

Suppose a retail chain has one store that historically underperforms based on average units per transaction. Set the goal of reaching parity with other stores, create an attractive reward for reaching the goal, and make the average units per transaction metric available in real time to all store staff. They will no longer need to be reminded to suggest the perfect belt to go with the outfit their customer has chosen. It will just happen.

5. Mobile point of sale systems allows retailers to re-imagine physical store layouts to maximize sales and increase the intimacy of customer interaction. No longer must there be a physical barrier between sales associates and their customers. No longer will customers be frustrated by sales associates that stand behind the counter and never greet or approach them.

Large bulky sales counters that were required to house servers, cables, computers, printers and cash drawers are a thing of the past. Web-based mobile POS technology allows retailers to take a more lightweight and customer-friendly approach. Deploying this approach also recaptures valuable store space.

6. Size doesn’t matter. One of the most exciting facets of the disruption going on in retail technology today is that the powerful new web-based, cloud systems fueling this retail transformation are accessible and affordable for small and mid-size retailers. Most systems offer transparent pricing models and scale based on tiers. User interfaces are intuitive and training time is minimized. All that is required is internet access and a web-enabled device with a web browser.

Gone is the pain and expense of supporting in-store servers and software upgrades. Gone is the concept of limping along with software that is seriously out of date. Gone is the need for software customizations that are too expensive to create and maintain. The needle is moving. Will you move with it?

Related: 3 Major Retail Predictions for 2014

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