The retail industry has vastly changed from the dynamic influences of digital, social and mobile technologies – all within the past three years. While shopping has always been a social sport – it takes little more than a click of a camera phone to share and solicit feedback on a potential purchase from friends and family afar. In fact, it has never been easier for others to influence personal shopping decisions.
Bringing like-minded people and communities together, social media serves as an all-convenient focus group. Friends, family and even strangers (those who comment on online product reviews) freely contribute their opinions about products, preferences and “likes.” I rely on my networks when I am torn about a particular product, or perhaps looking to try something new. Within minutes, I often find clarity from the input of my social universe.
As online technologies become more intertwined with the shopping experience, it is clear that retailers have an incredible opportunity to study these digital footprints to discern specific consumer preferences. Understanding what consumers truly want, can empower retailers to personalize their interactions, and better market their products and services to individuals on a 1:1 basis.
In the age of “big data” – which is marked by the massive growth of structured and unstructured data sets from both traditional IT systems and digital devices – analytics helps convert a sea of information into valuable insight. Retailers increasingly are recognizing the value of this technology and using it to spot trends, gauge consumer sentiment and understand behavioral influences. Then, they are applying these insights to make smarter buying, marketing, selling and services decisions. The precise care and use of data can boil modern-day retailing down to a science.
To shore up on big data skills, IBM is working with universities nationwide to incorporate the study of analytics. Today, I am excited to spending the day with faculty members at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) to discuss how analytics can be introduced and applied in the classroom. We started our initial discussions with F.I.T over nine months ago over the need for developing skills of the future… it is exciting to finally be setting a new plan into motion now.
The great news for students is that there is a wealth of opportunity ahead. The vitality and scope of jobs in the retail industry is expanding. Students don’t have to aspire to be the next Calvin Klein to make an imprint on the fashion and design worlds. Technical jobs for retail analysts and merchandize planners are in abundance – and retailers are specifically seeking out individuals with strong technology skills.
The future is bright for talented professionals who can mix their passions. At IBM we are excited to help students gain a new appreciation for both the art and science of retailing.