4 Pillars of Digital Transformation in Retail

retail digital transformation

What is Digital Transformation in Retail?

Digital transformation is the act of injecting new technologies into an organization to improve existing processes and enable new business activities. For retailers, this includes advancements like digital commerce, contactless ordering, roadside pickup, self-checkout systems, cost optimization based on big data analysis, and AI-powered product recommendations.

Beyond these specific initiatives, digital transformation can help retailers rethink how they approach their market, engage with customers across multiple channels, and create opportunities for new products, services, and business models.

We’ll discuss the main pillars of digital transformation initiatives in retail: promoting customer engagement, empowering employees, optimizing internal operations, and enriching products with digital technology.

In this article:

Benefits of Digital Transformation for Retail

Digital transformation solutions enable retailers to communicate with customers using a variety of channels, from websites and social media accounts to mobile apps and chatbots. These new channels provide new engagement opportunities, increase customer loyalty, and have the ultimate goal of increasing revenue for retailers.

From the customer’s perspective, the ability to interact with a brand and purchase online or via mobile devices has value and helps a brand achieve loyalty with a new generation of consumers.

Another aspect of improved customer interaction is the use of artificial intelligence (AI). AI algorithms can help retailers provide personalized recommendations, an approach that was pioneered by Amazon. Conversational AI is being used to automate online customer interactions.


Digital technology can also transform internal operations for retailers. By adopting the cloud and other modern technologies, retailers can automate processes and reduce time spent on manual tasks. Big data analytics can help retailers derive insights from existing data, better share knowledge across the organization, and improve customer support.

Pillars of Digital Transformation in the Retail Industry

1. Customer Engagement

Advances in technologies such as mobile computing and data analytics enable brands to understand consumers better than ever.

Modern customer relationship management (CRM) systems, paired with data analytics tools, provide detailed insights into customer demographics and allow brands to explore customer data based on behavior and preferences. Insights from CRM data can be used to create customer-centric marketing and sales activities and personalized experiences for buyers.

2. Employee Empowerment

Employee empowerment is the process of giving employees the knowledge, skills and tools they need to function in the digital workplace. Modern CRM systems allow employees to access customer details, sales and service recommendations, and insights into customer behavior, through a single user interface.

3. Optimizing Operations

Optimizing operations in retail means enabling data-driven decision making, efficient workflows, and providing improved visibility over supply chains, on the one hand, and customer interactions across all touchpoints, on the other hand.

This is supported by modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, which remove barriers between applications and provide a comprehensive overview across multiple channels of supply chains, customer service, purchases, and returns.

4. Enriching Products with Technology

Digital transformation encourages bands to incorporate new technologies into their products. This can take several forms:

  • Creating digital versions of popular products and services.
  • Adding internet of things (IoT) capabilities into products to give the retailer analytics about product consumption and use, identify failure and enable a proactive response.
  • Creating a subscription-based business model for a traditional product.
  • Enhancing products with digital technology—for example, the transformation of a traditional digital watch into a smart watch.

What Are the Key Trends Driving Digital Transformation Initiatives in Retail?

Digital Commerce

Digital commerce helps retailers respond to rapidly changing demand, selling globally, and moving into adjacent markets such as business to business (B2B), business to consumer (B2C), and direct to consumer (D2C), while preserving existing channels.

Another aspect of digital commerce is that it enables a simplified purchase process, both for buyer and seller. Retailers can improve operational efficiencies through back office automation, eliminating manual data entry, human error, and time wasted on manual tasks.

Digital commerce also opens the door to personalizing every aspect of interactions with prospects and customers. Brands can deliver unique experiences to target segments, while integrating with existing systems like CRM and ERP to provide customers with accurate inventory information and increase purchasing potential.

Related content: Read our guide to eCommerce digital marketing

Systems Integration

Data analysis is critical to forecasting demand and reacting quickly to new opportunities. Modern technologies make it possible to connect disparate systems, bringing data-driven insights to every aspect of the retail process, from inventory management to point of sale.

Connected systems help brands understand how customers use their products and optimize communications and pricing based on that knowledge. For example, eCommerce data can identify best-selling products and provide customers with appropriate personalized recommendations and discounts. CRM data can help brands understand who are their best customers and create targeted marketing campaigns to attract more of them.

The core systems providing data that can fuel innovation in retail include CRM, ERP, product information management (PIM), and third party logistics (3PL). Integrating all these data sources can help retailers show customers accurate pricing, availability and shipping information, provide personalized recommendations based on order history, and enable better inventory forecasts.

The retail industry is investing heavily in augmented reality, a technology that allows customers to view products in a realistic 3D environment before purchasing. This helps eCommerce buyers get a realistic simulation of products in real life, enables them to make informed purchasing decisions, and reduces returns. At retail stores, augmented reality can help customers understand the appearance and usage of products, and deliver compelling experiences that improve engagement and sales.

Voice Commerce

Voice commerce is becoming increasingly popular with the advent of voice-enabled devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. Voice-based, hands-free shopping is convenient, simple and fast. Customers can find products, compare prices, and buy using their voice. This is especially useful for busy people who don’t have time to browse online or go to the store, or for consumers with disabilities.

Digital Transformation in Retail with Cloudinary

We built Cloudinary Media Intelligence after determining that an ever-growing need exists for incorporating AI and ML throughout the media lifecycle as a crucial step for generating engaging user experiences. In the times ahead, in addition to building applications and functionalities, we’ll focus on understanding objects through context and other environmental parameters.

Here are three exciting and innovative AI-related projects currently underway at Cloudinary:

  • Fashion AI — This feature trains Cloudinary Media Intelligence on the fashion domain so that brands can better fulfill their media needs.
  • Custom AI — These are customizable AI models that help brands meet their unique requirements for media-related tasks or acquire subject-matter expertise that pertains to their products.
  • Shop-the-look AI — This is a helpful and fun capability whereby shoppers would, for instance, provide a picture of a shirt in quest of similar designs among the available merchandise offerings.

From Day One at Cloudinary, the Cloudinary Media Intelligence framework has been helping our customers achieve what’s deemed impossible. Given that innovation is in our DNA, we will continue to look for ways in which to scale visual experiences with our media-centric approach for intelligence and automation.

Learn more about Cloudinary Visual Intelligence

Last updated: Jan 14, 2024