Through the retail lens: Investing in technology

David Wilkinson, president of NCR Retail, on helping retailers navigate changing safety measures and consumer behaviors

David Wilkinson, president and general manager of NCR Retail, believes technology investments can help a company grow. While that might seem counterintuitive during the pandemic — with tight budgets for many — he makes a case for the role technology plays in solving the challenges.

Wilkinson came to NCR with a background that included leadership positions at IT and telecom firms like Avaya, Nortel and Verizon. In his tenure at NCR, he has led the global retail sales organization and a cloud-based point-of-sale startup before moving over to the retail channel. Wilkinson spoke with NRF about using technology to react to changes in consumer behavior.

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David Wilkinson
David Wilkinson,
​​​​​​​President and General Manager of NCR Retail

What are some key technology areas that you are watching related to COVID-19 and retail?

Retailers are focusing more on customer-facing applications to improve safety. For example, self-checkout technology saw a 52 percent growth in 2019 and we see a continued demand in 2020 as retailers are looking to provide contactless checkout options for their customers. Since COVID-19, NCR made changes in its self-checkout software to reduce the need to touch the screen while checking out and introduced two options for a touchless self-checkout process.

Beyond contactless, AI and automation are two other technology areas we believe will be instrumental in helping retailers navigate changing safety measures and consumer behaviors. Retailers can drive personalization and loyalty through tailored programs as well as efficiencies through automated remote managed services that identify potential IT issues and solve them before they impact store processes.

Can you shed some light on what other industries retailers should be paying attention to for guidance in consumer behavior changes?

The quick-service and fast-casual restaurant industries offer a great example of how to adapt to changes in consumer behavior. This industry quickly adopted technologies to make things like contactless payments, online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery possible. Brands like Chipotle and Firehouse Subs have mastered creating great customer experiences through digital channels.

Why do you think shoppers won’t simply switch back to old habits post-pandemic? What are the risks for retailers who invest now and those who don’t?

There are several analysts and market researchers that predict a percentage of consumers — as high as 35 to 45 percent — will maintain the habits formed during COVID-19.

Even post-pandemic there will be a heightened awareness of safety and cleanliness remaining. And the response to safety is convenience — people will stick with what is easier and better in the long-term. Retailers that do not invest in future-proofing their infrastructure with capabilities like buy online, pick up in store and contactless will likely lose sales and customer loyalty.

What types of questions are retailers asking now about what types of technology to invest in?

The questions haven’t necessarily changed, but the urgency has. Retailers want to know how they can quickly leverage their existing equipment to address changing customer needs. Retailers are also inquiring about how they can reduce touch in the checkout process and automate processes to keep their staff safe and be more efficient.

With so much financial pressure on retailers from the shutdowns and the massive changes, why is now the time to invest instead of sitting on cash?

While it can be expensive to make some of the necessary changes, technology is the enabler to get productivity gains and preserve margins.

Planning strategic investments in infrastructure can change the cost curve and create flexibility for all retailers, regardless of whether they benefitted from the pandemic as an essential business or are a business that is ramping up again.

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