How VMware Tanzu is Helping Retailers Improve the In-Store Experience Through Better Software

November 20, 2018 Derrick Harris

The death and rebirth of brick-and-mortar retail has been a fascinating topic to watch over the past few years, even as recently as this month when home improvement giant Lowes announced it will be closing 51 stores in the United States. Although there are lots of factors to consider when assessing why some stores failed while others are thriving (it’s more than just Amazon), two things do seem very clear: (1) brick-and-mortar shopping is far from dead, and (2) consumer expectations around the in-store experience have nevertheless increased as a result of how simple it is to buy products online.

Arguably the biggest change in expectations is that consumers desire a streamlined experience that doesn’t make every trip to the store feel like a crapshoot (“Will they have what I’m looking for, let alone in stock?”) or finding a needle in a haystack (“It’s great they have so much stuff, but I have no idea how to find what I’m looking for!”). Practically speaking, this means retailers need to support new types of purchasing behaviors such as buy-online, pick-up-in-store, and a more self-service experience inside the store. When they do need help finding something or getting advice, they want employees to be able to deliver those answers quickly and accurately.

These aren’t all software problems but, as Pivotal’s customer base shows again and again, well-designed applications can go a long way toward solving them.


Efficient employees means happier customers for Kroger

You can get a good sense of how by listening to Kroger Vice President of Digital Technology Ryan Kean in this interview at Pivotal’s Built to Adapt event from 2017. Rather than talk about the speed at which grocery giant Kroger’s developers are able to ship new code or launch new applications, Kean focuses on the benefits those new applications can deliver directly to customers.

Kroger is embarking on a wide-ranging strategy that covers everything from in-store sensor networks for ensuring produce freshness to in-store pickup and home delivery. Thanks to the breadth of data it has collected over the years via its loyalty program, the company is also working more personalization into the customer experience. This includes its new EDGE smart shelving, which can present shoppers with tailored suggestions or deals as they approach.

However, the defining distinction between a trip to the grocery store and shopping online is the human interaction—and, perhaps ironically, Kroger believes technology can help improve that experience, as well. For example, it’s rolling out a system called Scan, Bag, Go, which is akin to the checkout-less Amazon Go stores. It’s also equipping store managers with easier, more portable access to data to get them out of the office and onto the sales floor.

The goal of all this automation is to make their workforce of more than 400,000 associates and managers more efficient. The less time they have to spend figuring out where stuff goes, what’s past its due date, and/or ringing up simple orders, the more time they can spend helping customers and really getting to know them.

“Maybe it’s just walking groceries out to the car or something, but it’s that personal connection that is really hard to get online,” Kean said. “You can do it but it’s exceptionally hard and so when you’re trying to do it in scale, it just becomes that much harder.

“... Our mission is to drive the greatest customer experience, to trust the loyalty of our customers so we can deliver them the food experience that they want every day.”


From PCF to the store floor at The Home Depot

Getting a little deeper into the software side of things, home improvement leader The Home Depot is also stepping up its in-store game to improve the experience. Some of its work is less noticeable to the average customer but certainly noticeable to the company’s bottom line—like rebuilding the software that powers its tool-rental service to make it more efficient, and also to remedy an application oversight that let customers check out tools indefinitely without paying late fees. You can hear more about that in this Pivotal Conversations podcast, from December 2016, with the Home Depot’s Tony McCulley.

However, other Home Depot innovations are much more noticeable to anybody who has spent a few Saturdays perusing the aisles trying to find the right tool to fix that clogged garbage disposal, or install new light fixtures, or tackle an ant infestation, or … you get the point.

Take, for example, the company’s FIRST phones that give associates and other store personnel access to any number of functions, from inventory to the Home Depot website to walkie-talkie capabilities. In this session from Spring One Platform 2017, The Home Depot’s Dustin Bennett explains how switching to modern application architectures backed by Pivotal Cloud Foundry helped the company refresh those devices from clunky and bespoke to much more useful and lightweight. No more central server pushing updates to store infrastructure, and then to devices: Now, changes are pushed live via Cloud Foundry and delivered directly to devices.

“The big win for us immediately was that our deployment went from 6 weeks to get a change out to the store, to 2 days,” Bennett explained. “...That saved so much toil on the team. We could have done some of that on the old architecture with a central server, but PCF just let us do it so much faster and so much more seamless for the developers.”


Bonus Viewing: DICK’S Sporting Goods and T-Mobile

Of course, retail today also means e-commerce, which is a growing area of investment even for companies that have survived the brick-and-mortar purge and come out on top. For insight into how another Pivotal partner has modernized its operations and applications with Pivotal, check out this SpringOne Platform 2018 keynote from DICK’S Sporting Goods Vice President of Customer Technology Jason Williams, where he highlights how far DICK’s has come in less than a year after first engaging with Pivotal.

T-Mobile also has a very compelling story, which it has shared in numerous presentations over the past year (including several at SpringOne Platform 2018 and in this discussion that hits on multi-cloud and Kubernetes). But to hear some details on how it made it through the 2017 iPhone launch without going down, watch the video below (at about the 17-minute mark) from its SpringOne Platform 2017 session titled Zero to 12 Million, or wait until the 3:18 mark of this interview with T-Mobile’s Brandon Aye and James Webb.

About the Author

Derrick Harris

Derrick Harris is a product marketing manager at VMware.

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