Q&A: Seeing retail operations and the customer experience through retail’s digital transformation - SmartBrief

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Q&A: Seeing retail operations and the customer experience through retail’s digital transformation

Retail is transforming, but are retailers ready? AT&T Business exec Phillip Hartfield talks about delivering on omnichannel experience and the role of evolving tech in retail in this Q&A.

5 min read

Digital Technology

Seeing retail operations and the customer experience through retail’s digital transformation

AT&T Business

This post is sponsored by AT&T Business.

Technology is evolving, new tech tools are emerging and physical and digital channels are expanding – and retailers have to be ready. It’s no longer enough to simply be an omnichannel retailer. Shoppers want seamless, immersive and personal shopping experiences that can follow their purchase journeys from their mobile phones to their social media accounts and into stores.

Ahead of NRF’s upcoming Shop.org conference in Las Vegas, SmartBrief sat down with AT&T Business’ Industry Solutions GM of Retail, Restaurant and Hospitality Phillip Hartfield to talk about retail’s current state of digital transformation, how retailers are evolving and adapting and the implications all of this has on retail operations and the customer experience.

Retail is currently in a state of digital transformation. Why is it imperative that retailers adapt to deliver top-notch customer experiences across physical and digital channels?


Customers have more choices than ever before to purchase goods. Retailers need to offer immersive physical and digital experiences — something that touches an emotion — to capture consumer mind-share and loyalty. As customers become increasingly mobile, digital engagement at each touchpoint gives the retailer an opportunity to deliver a more personal experience with in-store incentives, which promotes brand allegiance and drives physical traffic.

How can retailers achieve this in a way that differentiates them from the competition?

Retailers can differentiate themselves from the competition by going back to what the brand stands for. What lifestyle does the brand want to represent? Technology can deliver that unique brand experience by immersing consumers at every touchpoint and offering unique opportunities such as seeing how a garment is made through AR/VR, or displaying on 3D digital signage how stitching is hand crafted on a handbag. There are a number of examples of retail transformation currently underway, and they include a familiar mix of products and services, but with an updated digital experience that attracts customers and brings the heart of the company to every sale. Each retailer has a special brand identity. It’s time to get back to basics and heighten brand identity through the use of technology and digital engagement.

How are new and evolving technologies changing the customer experience and the way retailers operate?

Technology is helping retailers develop their strategies for store locations, set-up and inventory control, and equipping them with the tools necessary to increase employee productivity and operational efficiencies across the supply chain. Today more than ever, technology is at the forefront of all customer interactions, which allows retailers to satisfy consumer demand to receive content early and often at their homes, at the places they work and anywhere they want to be contacted. These interactions help retailers know and understand what the consumer wants before they ever enter a retail location. This is critical, as 72% of shopping-related walkouts result in lost sales, which can cost an organization millions of dollars. The benefits of today’s technologies are driving huge changes across the industry, and that is reflected in brand loyalty and employee satisfaction.

How is voice technology changing the retail experience for both shoppers and retailers?

Voice technology is rapidly changing the way consumers can interact with retailers, however it’s still in its infancy. While chatbots have been around for a long time, more recent advancements in artificial intelligence are enhancing the usability of chat technology. Take conversational commerce: Due to efficiency, simplicity and the prevalence of home-based voice-enabled platforms, many customers are increasingly ordering goods through voice interface. Retailers are utilizing voice-enabled AI to help improve speed and customer satisfaction in their contact centers. In the future you will see the dynamics of voice technology continue to evolve. Consider the ways customers must physically interact with technology in all channels of the retail environments. As retailers integrate emerging voice technology into their platforms, and as AI-enabled voice platforms continue to become more intuitive, the ways in which consumers use voice to interact with their preferred brands will continue to grow.

Why are artificial intelligence, machine learning and internet of things technologies vital to retail strategy?

In the current digital age where consumers are connected via multiple channels, it is critical for retailers to not only connect with them on those channels, but also to collect data that helps them learn as much as possible about the consumer. This data can help retailers develop more personalized consumer engagement options, identify purchasing patterns and predict inventory more accurately. This critical data can include past purchase history, user location and dwell time. This is where AI comes into play, and it is key to the success of the retail store of the future. AI has the ability to quickly churn through all types of data by tapping information from IoT endpoints and other channels, leveraging machine learning, which specializes in using data and pattern recognition to provide information back to the AI engine, which in turn can provide a personalized consumer response.

As industry solutions GM for retail, restaurant and hospitality, Phillip Hartfield brings a unique set of leadership skills ranging from strategic business development, go-to-market strategy and technology skills to support the retail industry. His teams are responsible for aligning retail strategy between sales and product, and creating and activating marketing campaigns, product innovation and transformational ideation for all AT&T Business customers. In prior leadership roles, Phillip led sales and go-to-market strategies, developing AT&T integrated solutions to solve complex customer business challenges. Phillip also served as area vice president of Wi-Fi and big data, with revenue responsibility for AT&T’s global Wi-Fi business and big data practice. Phillip joined Southwestern Bell in 2001. Since then he has held a variety of sales management and executive positions in national business markets, global wholesale and specialty and vertical sales. He has delivered on strategic projects, scaling SBC’s out-of-territory footprint, leading acquisition sales teams, scaling AT&T’s Wi-Fi services business and overseeing multiple acquisition and integration projects.