Apple, iOS, and IBM are transforming retail, one shop at a time

City Furniture worked with Apple and IBM to build an iOS future for furniture retail

Apple, IBM, iOS, iPhone, iPad, Made for Mobile, City Furniture
Credit: Thinkstock

Yet more evidence proves Apple has become a peer enterprise technology vendor, this time in the shape of an Apple and IBM project to digitally transform business processes at South Florida’s leading furniture chain, City Furniture. I caught up with City Furniture CIO, Steve Wilder and Rodney Bryant, IBM Global Business Services Retail Industry Lead for the Apple Partnership Team, to find out more.

iOS for the enterprise

This is another of the rapidly growing number of iOS in the enterprise stories. City Furniture has worked with Apple and IBM to deploy a three IBM MobileFirst for iOS apps: Sales Assist, Payment and Finance. The apps were built using the Swift language. These new solutions are already proving their value, but Apple’s contribution in their development was a big reason the furniture chain chose them.

 “The Cupertino Design Workshop made the decision [to build the apps] easy and was one of the deciding factors,” said Wilder.

“We understood that IBM and Apple were the right path and the right partners after experiencing the Cupertino workshop.  We were confident that Apple would bring the usability and easy to use device and that IBM would bring the enterprise and integration expertise to our existing systems.”

How do the apps make shopping better?

Today’s customers are much more clued-up

When making big purchases they have often done much of their research online, will often purchase the items online, and really just want to visit stores to see them in physical form.

"Today’s consumer is a savvy shopper, armed with more product knowledge than ever before," said Bryant. "The convergence of physical and digital in retail is driving customers’ desire a convenient, personalized experience."

This means that across their visit, customers want to be able to access all the information they need as they need it, and don’t want to spend valuable time in queues or walking between payment counters.

The iOS apps reduce this customer friction by making it possible for store staff to do almost any task from their iPad. 

Staff can find products, create invoices and provide shoppers with huge amounts of detail about products much more quickly than before.

They can take payments on the spot using an iPad, arrange finance deals, and also get access to customer insights which enable them to make recommendations that are personalized to the needs of individual customers.

Advice for digital transformation projects

Wilder has some excellent advice for enterprises seeking to successfully engage in digital transformation projects of this kind. They can be seen as a Best Practise Model for any enterprise seeking to engage in the same:

  • Support from the Top: Company management “shared a clear vision of the potential, expected improvements these mobile apps would provide”. This recognition meant the company “prioritized the completion of these Apps over many other queued up IT projects and without this level of support, it would have been difficult to remain focused and complete the Apps.:
  • Commit, fully:  Management understood that in order to make these changes work, it needed to “make the mobile apps so appealing, compelling and rewarding” that company staff would want to use them. “Adoption is critical to ensuring the sustainability of the mobile platform that City Furniture hopes to continuously improve upon in the future,” Wilder stressed.
  • Teams matter: The apps may be easy-to-use, capable and deceptively simple, but their development demanded a lot of coordinated effort and collaboration across the company. “Involvement and contributions were made by external partners (IBM, Apple, INGENICO and others) and by internal resources across every City Furniture business unit,” Wilder told me. “The Apps are the product of extraordinary planning, design, development, testing, implementation, monitoring and continuous improvement.”

"Innovation is not a project; it is a new way of operating and behaving," says IBM's Bryant. "Innovation requires the willingness to really focus on the user experience, experiment, to invest and embrace failing fast.  Creating an agile organizational construct to foster, govern and manage an ongoing innovation process and capability is a foreign practice for most retailers.  Yet when competing with the likes of dominate online pure plays, it’s becoming critical to their business."

The measure of success

City Furniture has achieved success with its new approach. The company claims to have:

  • Grown the average purchase order per customer over five percent per customer
  • Increased average in-home warranty service sales by over 18 percent
  • Reduced the value of customer discounts by almost 60 percent
  • Halved the time it takes for customers to choose, finesse, pay and arrange delivery for products
  • Customers are able to order more accurately.

We will see more and more retailers embrace models like these.

Apple’s own retail stores are excellent examples of this new approach to connected shopping, with their focus on community engagement.

In more and more cases the future of retail is as community-facing showrooms where consumers can get hands on experience of products they may have originally found online, and won’t purchase until later.

"Stores are a great platform for customers to try out products, engage with retailer’s best brand ambassadors--store associate—as well as being a place to warehouse products and conduct transactions," Bryant told me.

At its simplest, retailers no longer provide buying opportunities, but buying experiences. There’s an excellent explanation of this over here at Retail Dive.

In future, technologies such as Augmented and Virtual Reality and machine intelligence will also transform the retail sector. AR and VR will enable consumers to make better decisions about what to buy, but it's possible the big change will be in AI.

"Cognitive computing, or AI, can turn vast amounts of data into: actionable insights to share throughout the entire enterprise, make predictive, personalized, hyperlocal recommendations to consumers, and engage directly with them to gain a competitive advantage," said Bryant.

I am in no doubt at all that we will see Apple introduce more technologies designed to help build on such achievements appear at WWDC 2017.

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