Brick-and-mortar retailers are at a crossroads.
Today, online shopping represents 16% of all retail sales, and that number is expected to reach 25% by the year 2026.
Furthermore, investment firm UBS reports that 15,000 brick-and-mortar stores have closed their doors since 2017 – and another 75,000 are expected to follow suit by 2026.
That places us in the midst of a multiyear “retail apocalypse.”
The key to surviving? Retailers must adapt, innovate, and embrace technology as a source of solutions.
So, it’s no surprise that retail technology companies are cropping up to help solve some of the most difficult and persistent challenges facing the industry. From driving foot-traffic to in-store analytics, payments processing, and loyalty programs – technology product companies are ushering in a new era of smart, connected retail operations.
However, the proliferation of retail technology also presents challenges for the companies that create, sell, and service these solutions.
Most notably for ISOs, MSPs, and VARs, there are nearly 1,000 unique technology companies vying for a market share among retailers. And many of these products and services are built on emerging technology, like IoT and machine learning. For merchant partners that sell and support technology, this means an increasing number of new hurdles to conquer.
As the number and types of devices, software, and technology within the retail industry continues to grow, these products and services are also becoming more integrated. For instance, connected POS platforms pull data from shopper analytics software and integrate with the retailer’s loyalty system – all in real time.
The existing merchant services and payment processing space is becoming both more crowded and more complex.
As retailers fight for relevance, they’ll rely on you, as a partner, to provide them with the latest technology and provide end-to-end support for connected devices and cross-product integrations.
It’s a tall order–but not one without opportunities.
The Retailer’s Product Experience is Value-Based
MSPs, VARs, and ISOs are no longer selling a suite of isolated merchant services.
They’re offering a suite of integrated technology solutions that help retailers operate more effectively and efficiently. But in order for customers to be able to reap the value of this technology, it has to work as advertised.
That means merchant service companies must also be prepared to support these emerging technologies, including troubleshooting hardware failures, diagnosing network problems, and monitoring and repairing broken integrations proactively.
Retailers are no longer buying an isolated product or service. They’re signing up for the full product experience – which includes integrated systems and interconnected technology.
Likewise, companies building and selling merchant technology products have ownership over the entire product experience, which often touches other products and services that merchants rely on to run their business.
The merchant’s product experience is determined by the integration of these technologies. The isolation of a specific product or service has diminishing value in the world of connected ecosystems. They rely upon other devices and services – routers, card readers, POS systems, beacons, etc. – in order to provide value to merchants.
If the integration between the POS system and the analytics platform breaks, then both technologies fail to provide their full value–and each technology provider feels the impact of a damaged customer experience.
The challenge is ensuring all of these moving parts work well together. But the upside is worth any additional effort: merchant tech companies and resellers can dramatically improve the experience (read: increase the value they provide) for their retail customers by collaborating with other merchant tech providers to create a more seamless system.
The Retail & Merchant Technology Landscape
The modern retail space is being driven by the ability of retailers to connect more systems together to provide a personalized, streamlined shopping experience.
Given the convenience and sophistication of online shopping, it’s no surprise that brick-and-mortar retailers are eager to catch up to (and supplant) virtual shopping by unlocking the same level of technology in the physical world.
In fact, McKinsey estimates that IoT and connected devices in the retail space could have an economic impact of up to $1.2 trillion per year by 2025.
With hundreds (or thousands) of vendors now competing in this space, there is an evolving need for technology integration services and support from vendors and suppliers. In order for merchants to realize the full benefits of the new solutions available, they must plug into their full stack of technology products.
However, this also marks the biggest challenge for merchant service providers.
That is, how can these companies evolve their models to not only provide support for the products and services they sell, but also for the integrations and devices that connect to those products?
That’s the role of improved product support infrastructure – and the modern merchant tech ecosystem.
4 Pillars of Supporting the Merchant Technology Ecosystem
For half a decade, we’ve been working to create a new level of service and support or the shifting merchant technology landscape. The team at Boomtown has provided support across a vast and growing array of products and services in the merchant technology space.
We’ve learned a lot.
From routers and beacons to POS systems and card readers, our team has developed a wealth of knowledge–both about products and about the needs of merchants on the ground.
We now support more than 300,000 brick-and-mortar stores and have launched a purpose-built product support platform called Relay to address the key challenges of emerging technology ecosystems.
Providing support in the age of ecosystems means adopting new practices and adapting old ones to work in a world where technology and products are interconnected.
For those who came through the advent of the internet and the first wave of connected technology, this should come as no surprise. But this time around, the requirements have changed and the stakes are higher than ever, with looming challenges like security and data compliance.
The keys to supporting a network of connected products and services can be condensed into 4 core pillars that drive our operations and should be baked into your support strategy as a merchant service or technology provider.
1. Collaborative Support
At the most basic level, the shift to technology ecosystems means that support can no longer function in a closed system. Technology companies and providers will frequently (and increasingly) find themselves in scenarios where resolving a user’s problem requires input or action from multiple stakeholders.
The solution is to provide a mechanism for teams from different vendors to collaborate (both asynchronously and in real-time), troubleshoot, and provide support to the end user.
This may seem like a massive shift–to comingle support operations with another vendor or third-party service provider. Nevertheless, it reflects the new reality of technology ecosystems. The value that your company creates is no longer confined to the core functionality of your product or service, but is defined by your solution’s ability to integrate with an entire network of systems.
The customer’s experience doesn’t end outside of your sandbox — and neither can your ability to provide support.
2. Collective Knowledge
While direct collaboration across product support teams is the ideal, having access to collective product knowledge is absolutely imperative to operating within a connected technology ecosystem.
Again, we can see that the increasing number and complexity of product integrations require support teams to understand a broad array of adjacent products and be able to troubleshoot integrations that don’t fit neatly within the barriers of their company’s product or service.
The ideal solution here is to create and maintain a shared knowledge database with ecosystem partners. This knowledge can then be accessed by all partnering vendors and used to troubleshoot problems that may cross company silos.
3. Predictive/Proactive Support
One of the biggest shifts created by the introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected business devices is the ability (and necessity) of shifting from a reactive support model to a proactive–and, ideally, predictive–model.
In practice, this means using network monitoring and real-time data streams to detect problems that the customer may be facing. This could be anything from a router going down to a broken integration that’s no longer feeding data from one device to another.
While it’s possible to detect and solve these problems now, future advances in AI and machine learning will allow technology vendors to actually predict when an issue is most likely to occur and fix it before the customer is affected.
From the merchant perspective, this feels a bit like magic. And, understandably, the customer experience is greatly improved when you, as a merchant partner, are able to identify and solve a problem proactively, without the need for them to contact you for support. On your end, collecting this data creates the ability to predict future problems and adjust operations accordingly, thereby improving support efficiency.
4. Automation and Intelligence
As the technology landscape evolves, the scope and scale of product support also grows–exponentially. For each new product that enter the market, there are dozens or hundreds of integrations and connections that must be supported and maintained between it and any existing technology used by merchants.
The answer isn’t to hire more agents with ever-more-specialized knowledge about each product. The solution is to leverage AI, machine learning, and automation that allows you to process, understand, and resolve issues instantaneously.
In a world of connected systems and devices, the customer experience relies on key players working together to support the holistic customer journey. That is, merchant tech providers need to participate in a collaborative business ecosystem to best serve their customers (the retailers) and the end-customer (consumers).
Vendors and technology resellers that embrace these shifts will wield a strong competitive advantage over those who lag behind.
As customer expectations shift, it will become increasingly common–and expected–for technology partners to drive value for merchants by supporting their integrated technology across operations. This means a shift in how B2B technology companies frame the value they provide as well as a change in how they plan and operate their support strategy to deal with emerging technologies.
Retail merchants want to deliver added value for their customers through technology — which means merchants rely on partners like you to create value by supporting and integrating with their solutions.