Behind the Scenes: IT’s Hidden (But Significant) Role in Retail

At a play, spectators see only practiced actors and rehearsed scenes — the work that goes on backstage remains all but invisible. IT is like the stage crew of retail, providing support to many of the moving parts that exist behind the scenes of the shopping experience.

A consumer stepping into a retail store or browsing an ecommerce site encounters only the touchpoints the business wants them to see. And yet, many consumer interactions are being driven (at least in part) by unseen IT processes and people. From software assistance to machine maintenance to security, the IT department plays an extensive role in supporting the retail environment. Here are just a few examples revealing the significance of the role of IT in retail:

1. In-Store Kiosks, Interactive Displays, and Other Smart Technologies

In-store technologies are vital to help modernize traditional brick-and-mortar shopping, which still makes up 72 percent of all retail revenue. Though ideally consumers interact with the displays without requiring assistance from IT, the department still works behind the curtain (or screen, in this case) to ensure devices function sans glitches.

IT’s Role: These in-store devices depend on IT, as the department oversees operation of both the hardware and software. Implementing software fixes, performing maintenance, and monitoring asset performance all fall under IT’s duties. IT is also responsible for ensuring in-store salespeople receive adequate training on these devices and systems. The division may even play a role in storing and managing the data used to populate the product catalogue or other information provided by the kiosk or display.


2. Retail Purchases

The latest payment methods cater to the convenience and flexibility consumers desire, with digital payments online and mobile payments and handheld POS systems in stores. IT is hard at work behind the scenes here, integrating all of these different payment channels and processes (think click-to-buy and one-click options) to guarantee a seamless purchase cycle for shoppers.

IT’s Role: For starters, IT must ensure proper connectivity across all relevant software and systems including ecommerce software, the POS system, financial software, and inventory management. Additionally, in-store devices and software programs require regular upkeep. And unless the business hires a third-party provider, security and fraud management will typically fall under IT’s jurisdiction as well.

3. Branded Mobile Apps

Consumers are enjoying the ability to shop on the go at their convenience, and branded retail apps offer businesses a speedy new method for driving sales and revenue. Although IT is not typically a lead player in developing or running the app, the division helps coordinate many mechanisms the app depends on to function.

IT’s Role: IT works closely with application development and logistics teams to unite all pertinent data and software systems. For example, the inventory and distribution systems must sync with the mobile app software, otherwise the product catalogue details within the app won’t reflect the actual inventory in stock.

4. Data-Powered Ads and Promotions

As consumers gravitate toward personalized marketing, retailers are turning to data to build enhanced customer experiences. The increased reliance on consumer data means IT ends up playing an important supporting role as the data caretaker.

IT’s Role: Proper data storage and management — a key responsibility of many IT divisions — is essential to power these targeted ads and promotions. IT must ensure that marketing and CRM systems link together correctly for data collection, alongside any other relevant data sources. And again, IT personnel are frequently tasked with securing and protecting the consumer information used to create these tailored campaigns.

Learn more about the role of IT in retail in our webinar about how IT helps support peak retail periods.

[Image courtesy of wikipedia user Ryan Brownell.]

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