Surviving the Onslaught of Big Retailers Means Embracing Technology
Delivery, online ordering, loyalty programs, are just some of the facets of retail that have undergone a digital transformation. So, the question weighs on the minds of those in the micro retail space — will the independent retailer still be here in a few years as they struggle to apply technology to their business and to compete with the big boxes of the world?
That’s why Carl Turner, CEO and founder of SWIPEBY, a holistic ordering-to-curbside pickup platform, strongly feels indeed they will be if these more nimble, resolute retailers are smart. “Our philosophy with our solutions is to target the independent retailer that understands there is enough autonomous, affordable technology solutions out there to fill the void and know they must embrace the concept of digital transformation to come out on top,” he said. “That’s why SWIPEBY offers a flexible platform with simple, affordable technology along with key retail industry technology partnerships that help independent retailers be more competitive with regard to customer convenience and relationship-building.”
He explained, “Our company strives to offer more than a simple mobile app or set of technology tools, but a highly sophisticated platform that is easy to integrate, customize and use, and offers the features retailers need to support their business when it comes to ordering and delivery. Our goal as a company is to offer a holistic solution supported by a robust ecosystem of retail technology partners that gives IBMRs an edge to compete more favorably with bigger players through digital transformation.”
It Started with Identifying the Void
The concept for SWIPEBY goes back to when Turner was at Wake Forest University. While a student, he began to look at and understand retail’s need to embrace digital transformation. It was clear to him the challenge independent retailers were facing was the lack of solutions and wherewithal to engage in digital transformation. “I was getting a degree in software development and was looking at retail technology solutions supporting ordering and delivery. After digging into the sector, it became clear that for IBMRs there was a void both from a technology standpoint and an ability to make digital transformation a reality,” he said.
So, Turner started mulling over the challenge for the independent retailer. IBMRs are traditionally at a disadvantage to the large chains – which have a deep source of funding to help them survive through times of economic woes, supply chain disruptions and staffing issues. IBMRs also don’t have the benefit of a large staff of people in departments such as IT and marketing.
As well, the industry was already seeing the dwindling number of IBMRs in communities as the major chains swept in with a competitive advantage in most areas, but predominantly in consumer convenience and customer experience. Sadly, this meant communities and neighborhoods were becoming homogenized and cookie-cutter without the authentic culture and diverse choices that IBMRs bring to them.
Most people can appreciate the difference between grab-and-go food at a Taco Bell or the manufactured fun at a Chili’s and that of an authentic mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant serving house-made tortillas, salsa, and guacamole. Or even, the welcome from a Circle K clerk versus a 25-store convenience-store chain run by a regional business with a family-feel culture. A Kroger versus a local Greek market with 17 varieties of feta cheese or the candy aisle at Wal-Mart versus the artisan collection at a boutique chocolate shop.
“Without an affordable, intuitive solution, the risk of losing the rich experiences IBMRs bring to communities around the country was high and only getting higher,” Turner lamented.
Unfortunately, IBMRs have a double whammy of not understanding or having the willingness to embrace the necessary technology to bring about the digital transformation they need to stay competitive. In fact, the 2020 Small Business Digital Transformation Study by IDC for Cisco found that lack of digital skills and cultural resistance are the top two challenges for small businesses undergoing digital transformation. That same report in its executive summary states, “Digitization is no longer an option, it’s a necessity. Once considered a way for companies [small businesses] to gain competitive advantage, digitalization has now become a matter of survival.”
As a student, Turner began to crystalize a potential solution that would make it easy for retailers to focus on the adoption of technology concepts to address digital transformation. While online ordering and curbside and drive thru pickup were accelerating over the past few years and simple apps could be used to place and fulfill an order, at SWIPEBY Turner and his team felt they needed technology that did more for the IBMR than just process orders.
Solutions needed to be created that help the business improve customer experience, market better and drive repeat sales. “So, we began thinking about more functionality and operational effectiveness such as geofencing, loyalty and customer segmentation that would allow these retailers to compete with bigger players and go beyond simple ordering and delivery management,” he said. “We also knew it would be important to create a retail technology partner ecosystem in tax, POS, delivery and more to give IBMRs a greater advantage.”
Digital Transformation Promises to Level the Playing Field for IBMRs
Most IBMRs know they need to embrace digital transformation. Some have even put basic technology solutions in place – like a website for online ordering and a contract with a third-party delivery company, like DoorDash. But knowing they need something or having a couple of band-aid fixes will not keep them in the running against the slick tech offered by large chain retailers.
While a lot of digital transformation is about what the tech does – the features — a more significant, often overlooked part, is the user experience. As mentioned above, these IBMRs don’t have a tech team or actually even someone on staff who is tech-savvy beyond putting some pretty images on social media. IBMRs don’t have the time or inclination to install, learn and operate the kind of system a mega chain uses. A tech solution that works for IBMRs must have robust features and yet still be easy to use, flexible and require little to no training or maintenance. And It also has to fit into budgets.
“So, this was the genesis for our strategy with SWIPEBY – design a platform to benefit IBMRs that is simple to use by the main operator for larger business decisions and the staff for day-to-day updates that need to be made on the fly.” Turner explained. “In essence, create a solution that is flexible enough to help them stay competitive now and in the future.”
The Big Payoff — Parity for IBMRs
The current trend of consumers wanting and needing convenience will not stop, and the expectations will continue to grow. The businesses that meet convenience demands will be the ones that people will frequent and will be loyal to. While many consumers would prefer a community business and know the quality of food, service and goods are often better, they are willing to sacrifice quality for convenience. “We at SWIPEBY see the sacrifice of quality for convenience everyday as people line up in a fast-food drive-thru lane instead of getting a delicious artisan sandwich from a local café,” Turner pointed out.
Beyond the current cash-and-carry, curbside pickup and drive-thru consumer expectations, IBMRs need help with what is coming in the future – what the new bar will be – so they can be unique and thrive in spite of the millions of dollars that mega chains will throw into their own digital transformations.
“There’s convenience, there’s loyalty and there’s engagement,” he said. “We want to help IBMRs go beyond those and help them build lasting relationships with their customers.”
In the End
As a platform partnering with other leading retail technology firms such as Restaurant.com, Toast and Avalara, there’s a clear understanding by SWIPEBY that the more IBMRs embrace technology to benefit their stores, digital transformation will pave the way for success and the resurgence of the IBMR.
Mark Twain once said after a newspaper article declared mistakenly the great satirist had died — “The report of my death has been grossly exaggerated.” For the IBMRs, the discussions about their demise can be greatly altered with the help of digital transformation. And SWIPEBY plans to be at the core of that digital transformation. Then, just maybe then, the demise if the independent retailer, as with Twain, will have been “grossly exaggerated.”