Interview with MFG IT Director – Paresh Patel
The Role of Technology in the Evolution of Retail Industry
The retail industry is constantly disrupted, since its birth, modern retail has significantly changed over time. As technology advances, the retail industry is undergoing a transformation, unlike anything the industry has ever seen. Forecourt retail has been at the forefront of this transformation. Forecourts are no longer just used for refuelling purposes but it has become so much more than just a Gas/Fuel station. The modern forecourts are now designed to compete with big convenience stores and quick-service restaurants. Few other business verticals are as full of disruptions and challenges as retail. Retailers have responded to the digital opportunity by using digital as an enabler of better customer service and greater operational efficiency. Others have embraced it an opportunity to shape a long-term sustainable business model which leverages technology to enhance the customer experience and thus keeping up with the ever-changing consumer behaviour.
Paresh Patel is a retail industry veteran with over 15 years of extensive track record of driving digital transformation across forecourt retail. He is the IT Director of Motor Fuel Group (MFG), UK’s largest independent forecourt operator. With over 900 stations across the country, MFG is UK’s preferred destination for premium fuel brands. Formerly, he was the Director of Forecourt Sales at HTEC Ltd., managing point of sale, payment and loyalty solutions for world’s leading retailers.
Recently, Paresh sat down with Suhas Patil, Founder & CEO at Sankey Solutions to discuss the role of technology in the evolution of retail industry and the challenges and opportunities in transforming the industry.
⦁ Paresh, thank you so much for spending some time with us today. To begin with, how is technology revolutionizing the retail and consumer sector?
As consumers have turned towards smaller store formats, they are interacting with convenience retailers in new and different ways. Most interestingly for me, digital engagement has grown massively over the last few years. At the front end, we are seeing the use of app and online drive consumer discovery, engagement and loyalty. Of equal importance to retailer success, though, are advances in the back office. Enhancements in real time business information, analytics and reporting technology has provided retailers with a much greater understanding of their customer base. Armed with this knowledge we’re seeing retailers make quicker, smarter decisions, all aimed at improving the customer experience.
⦁ What are the most important challenges retailers and their supply chains need to overcome to take advantage of technological advancements?
As a guiding principle, technology must enhance the customer experience and satisfaction. Technology for technology’s sake is expensive for the retailer and confusing for the customer. Retailers should embrace only those technological advances which will improve their efficiency and the customer experience. Ultimately, this will drive probability.
To be successful, all departments (not just IT!) must understand and engage with the technology that has been adopted. If there is not a buy-in across the business, the potential of the technology will not be fully unlocked.
⦁ How is MFG keeping up with the new digitally conscious customer? How influential is the need for a human connection in retail?
As mentioned, MFG offers customer mobile app and loyalty schemes that provides incentives and promotional discounts. We also work hard to provide a coherent digital offering across all our major food to go brand partners such as Greggs, Subway and Costa Coffee. Continuing our mission to increase our digital footprint, we also offer a delivery service via UberEats for the majority of our 900+ stations.
Whilst we are seeing great engagement digitally, we recognise that a multi-channel approach is key. Often our digital platforms drive people to store, but it is our excellent customer service and great people that keep customers coming back. In forecourt retail the technologies that enhance and help cashiers and site staff are often the most successful.
⦁ How can the retail industry truly embrace Big Data and Customer Analytics? What are the indicators expected to drive the retail analytics market?
The growth in the retail data points is driven by customers combining the use of retail websites, point-of-sale, loyalty card, mobile apps, and in-store sensors. Like never before, retailers have an opportunity to embrace this data to accurately reveal patterns, trends, and associations in customer behaviour. This knowledge will enable companies to create customer recommendations based on their purchase history, resulting in a personalised shopping experience.
⦁ The influx of disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence is bringing exciting change to the retail industry and transforming the industry for better. What are some of the emerging use cases of AI in the retail industry?
The use of artificial intelligence will allow retailers to offer an improved shopping experience for their customers. Retail stores will be able utilise loyalty accounts to personalise the preferences and buying patterns of each customer who walks into the store. Buying patterns consist of the categories of products purchased, combinations of preferred brands, amount spent and frequency of buying. In addition to current loyalty offerings, this model can also predict customer’s needs and anticipate their arrival at the store location for a particular list of items to buy.
⦁ How can retail organizations best make change management part of the remodelling or digital transformation equation?
For successful change management it is essential that the entire business from the executives to the retail store servers buy in to it. This needs a systematic approach to manage the digital transformation that includes employee consultation and training.
⦁ Retail consumer behaviour is changing at an unprecedented pace with a dramatic surge in ecommerce. How will the modern retail adapt to digital commerce?
It is essential to embrace the benefits of digital commerce. However, there is still a place for physical retail. In order to be successful, retailers need to complement their digital offer by providing unique experiences to customers in-store that they would not get when shopping online, such as in-store exclusives and incentives that offer value and convenience to customers.