Ceridian generic retail clothingAs retailers continue to execute on a profitable holiday season, they must also take the time to look back and consider some of the major lessons learned over the past year. Regardless of company size or location, technology played a major role in retail during 2015. In fact, the 2016 Retail Tech Spending Report found that 78 percent of retail executives said their companies place emphasis on innovative technologies and processes to increase margins and improve the customer experience – and this number is only projected to increase in 2016 and beyond.

Not only is the dependence on technology due to customer behaviors – as consumers continue to rely on social media, e-commerce, and smart devices to get what they want at a very rapid pace – but also due to a generational shift in the workplace.  As is the case leading retailers continue evolving into technology-focused organizations.

To achieve continued success in 2016, retailers should look back on the following five technology lessons learned from this past year:

  1. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) was fully embraced and arrived with a bang. The constant flow of innovation – such as turn-key Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity upgrades, safe harbor status, SSAE16 certification and other areas that lower total cost of ownership – has helped drive significant adoption by retailers who felt the need for speed. Solution providers and retailers who have yet to provision true multi-tenant SaaS models are finding operational costs impacting valuation.
  1. Stores continued to provide significant value for brands, and expanded their duties as part of the multi-channel experience and service from store (for example: pick-up, pack and ship). This in turn had the workforce shifting in activities, and store systems are still struggling to update and keep up. Going into 2016, retailers will need to focus more on the customer service opportunities offered by ship to store and service from store as these are dimensions of service quality and upsell opportunities that can be leveraged to increase profitability and brand equity.
  1. The importance of incentive programs increased, and were therefore re-evaluated. As the omni-channel infrastructures and logistics were being re-tooled for each season, many retailers took a closer look into their incentive programs and how their managerial accounting practices re-enforced the right behaviors when revenue and service quality touched many physical areas of the company. The ultimate lesson here: Should retailers double compensate? Absolutely, they should and will, come 2016.
  1. CIOs were challenged to drive growth, which led to building in-store employee engagement. By providing systems that support an engaging company culture, employee engagement increased and year-over-year productivity also grew by 20 percent. Reports stated that as much as 71 percent of employees were disengaged, yet over 90 percent of the service is delivered in store. Retailers were hyper-focused on who was taking care of the customer – which drove human capital management innovations and self-service, from anywhere, at any time and on any device.
  1. Personalization became a priority. In retail, companies have a large internal compilation of different personalities and casts of characters. In 2015, retailers realized the generational differences of Baby Boomers, Generation Y and Millennials, and how each group interacts in the workplace. Additionally, the best retailers took this data one step further and analyzed how each group makes decisions, leading to increased workplace satisfaction, and tailored perks and operational functions.

For example, Baby Boomers often expressed frustration with native applications and high technology tools, which differed from Millennials. For many years, despite their desires, retailers were held back from shifting to more advanced, higher speed technology, due to outdated views and experiences. In 2016 and beyond, most retailers will make the big transition, and pave the next path of growth in business and retail through technology. In doing so, retailers will be able to see the different communities that exist, and the new opportunities that will emerge. These “tribes” think differently – they expect different service and in the form factor most convenient to them.

Armed with the technology lessons above, retailers will continue to build on both internal and external successes in the New Year, which will include improved employee engagement, increased sales, and ultimately, an extremely satisfied workplace.