Behind the scenes: what it takes to make retail technology work
The retail landscape in South Africa’s larger cities has an unexpected face: a platoon of small motorbikes and e-bikes buzzing about, delivering grocery orders to time-pressed consumers at the click of a button. All four of South Africa’s major grocery retailers now offer app-based delivery services, with Spar the latest to join the ranks with its Spar2U offering. These solutions bring entire stores to the consumers' smartphones, where they can browse the aisles from the comfort of their own homes.
App-based home delivery is only one example of technological innovation in the retail sector we’ve seen in the last few years. The retail industry is far more technologically advanced behind the scenes than a consumer would guess. Every single step of a product’s journey from the supplier to the shopping basket can be automated in some way, in some cases entirely. Long gone are the days of a greengrocer picking out the best produce by hand. “These days, even an assignment of fruit and veg can be tracked right back to the row in the field they come from, thanks to technology in retail. From the field to the shelf, its journey is made quicker and safer by automated processes, which in the long run carries cost and efficiency benefits to the consumer,” says Chief Technology Officer at Inspired Testing, Leon Lodewyks.
Keeping up with digital advances such as automation is far more complex than what the average consumer suspects. This blissful ignorance often fuels demands that every part of the complex retail chain works perfectly all the time and failure to do so can lead to tremendous losses, both financially and in credibility. While the evolution of delivery services is one of the more visible examples of digital innovation in retail, processes and procedures throughout the retail life cycle are constantly improved, often through automation. From smooth logistics operations to bring products to the consumer, to modern point of sale (POS) systems that incorporate inventory management and payment processing, these technological advances create an increasingly positive experience for all those involved.
Back-end quality to ensure reliability
The consumer only sees the improvements these advancements bring about, while retailers are on tenterhooks behind the scenes to pull off these expensive and complex changes. Resource restraints and lack of exposure to these technologies are cited as barriers to entry in up to 40% of South African retailers when considering new technology such as automation.
“One of the key aspects of successful implementation of technology hinges on its usability, reliability and how well it addresses business challenges. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into making this happen,” explains Lodewyks. “Software testing plays a crucial role in uncovering potential pitfalls before go-live with any new solution. The opportunity to fine-tune solutions before they reach the consumer allows retailers to reduce the risks to credibility associated with software failure or system-wide crashes.”
Lodewyks continues: “Retailers can ensure dependable, effective and comprehensive quality by conducting software testing to detect and rectify possible bugs, glitches, inaccuracies or operational issues. Software testing can verify that software functions as intended, aligns with the retailer’s specific requirements and meets expected quality standards.”
According to Lodewyks, there are five common areas where software testing will add real business value. It might be a matter of out of sight, out of mind, but focus in these key areas can make or break the quality of a software solution:
- Ensuring quality and compliance by verifying that the software solution functions as expected and meets compliance standards.
- Assessing performance and scalability to ensure that the solution can handle expected and unexpected user demand without compromising system integrity or user experience – crucial during times like Black Friday.
- Compatibility and integration with existing software systems such as inventory management or POS systems. Software testing ensures that data exchange, communication and functionality across integrated components work smoothly, minimising any disruptions or inconsistencies.
- User acceptance and experience are key in the retail industry, and testing involves evaluating the software from an end-user’s perspective to assess usability, performance, efficiency and overall user satisfaction. This enables the retailer to identify areas where the software may be confusing or difficult to navigate.
- Risk mitigation by uncovering and addressing issues early in the testing phase. Software testing provides valuable insights that can empower retailers to make informed decisions and take necessary actions to minimise risks before the solution is rolled out. By doing so, retailers benefit from cost savings, as finding defects earlier is much less expensive.
Retail automation improves operational efficiency for retailers by streamlining processes and reducing manual errors. Automated systems such as bar code scanning, inventory management and integrated payment processing lead to faster transactions and smoother store operations. This efficiency translates into a better customer experience, with shorter queues and quicker checkout times. Moreover, retail technology enables retailers to gather data and provide personalised experiences, including tailored recommendations and targeted promotions based on customer behaviour and preferences.
By reducing human error and ensuring accurate pricing, inventory management and financial transactions, modern systems build trust and satisfaction among customers. It offers convenience and flexibility, allowing customers to choose their preferred shopping channel, access a wide range of products, and enjoy convenient delivery options. Real-time inventory management prevents out-of-stock situations, ensuring that customers can find the products they need. Additionally, automation can augment customer service efforts, with virtual assistants or chatbots providing support and freeing up human staff to focus on personalised assistance.
Looking forward, Lodewyks recommends that retailers start thinking about how they will incorporate AI into the retail experience. Future e-commerce stores will have AI-driven virtual shopping assistants that will deliver faster and more personalised search results to ensure a vastly improved customer experience – if it functions properly. This AI experience will allow the user to search using prompts rather than the more conventional filtering. For example, a user looking for a new dress for a specific event will be able to prompt the AI shopping assistant with their requirements: a specific size, the desired colour and length, and the nature of the event such as a cocktail party. Rather than having to scroll through endless options, this smart technology will propose a short list of suitable dresses at a far more intelligent and granular level than regular filtering will be able to achieve. Delivering the right information and relevant results will be vital to the success of this technology, ensured through extensive software testing. This new frontier in e-commerce will also expand the current horizons of software testing by incorporating data scientists into software testing.
Technology such as automation presents great opportunities in the retail industry to improve customer service while increasing operational efficiency. While the main barriers to entry remain cost and the need for specialised skills, comprehensive software testing can help minimise the associated risk of implementing new digital technology. Engaging with a pure-play software testing company such as Inspired Testing negates the need for in-house specialists while still granting access to the benefits of entering the fourth industrial revolution.
Inspired Testing is a pure-play software testing company that has a dedicated focus on software testing solutions for clients globally. Its services include software testing across the entire spectrum of the discipline including Test Automation, Performance Testing, Functional Testing and Outsourced Managed Services. In operation since 1999, (previously trading as DVT’s testing division) the organisation has grown to over 250+ staff with offices in the UK (Edinburgh and London) and South Africa (Johannesburg and Cape Town). The company also runs the Inspired Academy which is responsible for developing some of the industry’s foremost training programmes to upskill and keep testing professionals and teams relevant. Inspired Testing is a company within the software and technology group Dynamic Technologies. https://www.inspiredtesting.com/
Inspired Testing is a Dynamic Technologies group company. With 1 500+ staff and 8 group companies operating across multiple sectors in the UK, European, US, UAE, East African and South African markets. Dynamic Technologies provides a range of software and technology solutions, SQA and testing, cloud solutions, CRM, legal enterprise business solutions, skills development, and related core competencies. Our group companies comprise BPC Resourcing, CloudSmiths, DVT, Dynamic DNA, Emerald Consulting, Inspired Testing, Sincera and xSMTHS.