A colleague commented recently that sustainable in-store technology simply means using less paper. They were being facetious (at least I think they were!) but it got me thinking about why sustainability strategies shouldn’t be limited to environmental considerations. Yes, reducing the amount of paper in store can help to reduce waste, but does the move to digital over paper solve the entire sustainability challenge?
In my view, the issue is more nuanced. It’s fantastic that so many retailers have undergone a digital transformation and traditionally paper-based items such as receipts, stock checklists, store performance reports and more are now widely available digitally. And end user devices such as tablets have certainly made life easier for colleagues and customers alike, helping to drive sales. But running those new in-store systems and tools, and storing data online, may mean increased energy usage and emissions, which could have a detrimental effect on sustainability goals.
Retailers now have an opportunity to reframe the benefits of digitisation more widely and visualise the true impact of in-store tech to ensure that they understand how sustainable they are.
What is in-store technology?
In-store technology is an example of manufactured capital. It encompasses a wide range of equipment across all aspects of front and back-office store operations. It’s used by store colleagues and customers alike and includes tills, kiosks, product scanners and tablets. The scope extends to other onsite technologies used for heating, cooling and cooking too, but here I’m focusing on the technology that supports employees and customers in store and enables selling.
Think beyond environmental capital
Retailers have historically invested in new in-store technology for compliance reasons (PCI comes to mind), to replace end-of-life equipment or to improve customer experience. But there are many sustainability benefits too. It’s time to reframe your investment in technology through the lens of sustainability using the five capitals model.
Replacing on-premise POS hardware and software is often seen as an operational cost-saving initiative, as the technology is more efficient and cheaper to run. But choose your partners and suppliers wisely and there are additional benefits. Accenture’s “The Green Behind The Cloud” research shows that by using green cloud solutions, which have been designed and built by a carbon-thoughtful provider using green software engineering principles, a host of sustainability benefits are brought to bear too. In addition to the obvious reduced carbon footprint, cloud-based artificial intelligence tools can support predictive maintenance helping to further reduce the organisation’s carbon footprint through reduced travel to site for maintenance. Predictive maintenance may also improve human capital by reducing frequent, often mundane tasks leading to improved employee engagement, providing time to focus on training or value-add tasks such as process improvement. Collectively these will all have a positive impact on the organisation’s financial capital.
In-store technology also brings further human and social capital benefits. Where it improves user experience, perhaps through a more accessible GUI, improved response times or more accessible customer data, it can support employee engagement too. In-store tech that simplifies day-to-day tasks supports an increase in employee engagement. In turn, there will be an increase in customer experience and enhanced relationships with customers too – as described in the Harvard business review in 2019, “a happier workforce is clearly associated with companies’ ability to deliver better customer satisfaction — particularly in industries with the closest contact between workers and customers, including retail, tourism, restaurants, health care, and financial services”. It’s all about creating a more compelling shopping experience for both in-store staff and customers alike, and it remains true today.
The end of abundance thinking
The term social capital reflects how communities and society at large share key positive values and a collective sense of purpose. Increasingly that’s towards an “end of abundance thinking”, as identified in the latest Fjord Trends report. More people and communities are making socially-conscious choices about who they want to work for, and which brands they want to buy from. Therefore, reframing benefits cases with a sustainability mindset e.g. promoting the environmental benefits of a system upgrade as well as the additional human and social benefits to employees and to customers in a way that clearly demonstrates an alignment to your ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) metrics or the United Nations’ SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) can support growth across the Triple Bottom Line of People, Profit and Planet.