Technology revolutionizing the Retail Space

Robin Copland, VP of Retail, Americas, ThoughtWorks
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Robin Copland, VP of Retail, Americas, ThoughtWorks

360 Degree view of the Customer

GA: As soon as you mention ‘360º view of the customer’ someone in your technology organization is going to ask about master data management. Before embarking on that path, there are some questions to consider: Which part of your company owns the customer? Will every other part of your company agree with that? What happens when the next marketing campaign requires identifying the Instagram account of customers? Will billing need to take an outage to accommodate that change? What will this be for? Can customer-facing applications use this new repository? Are you sure you’re not exposing personally identifiable information to the wrong customer?

"Technology is expanding the possibilities when it comes to customer intimacy and personalization"

You need to be ready to have some honest conversations and sometimes it helps to have a 3rd party lead and mediate that investigation internally. But be prepared to discover that master data management is not worth the investment.

DS: One, don't lose sight of common sense. It’s easy to think that technology is going to satisfy all unmet customer needs, but technology for technology’s sake applied in a brick and mortar shopping experience can be pointless. Does a sales person need to know all of my previous purchases over the last several years to help me find a pair of jeans I am looking for? Hopefully, not. Can that sales person up-sell me with a matching shirt, shoes or belt without knowing the same detailed history - probably. Now, would I benefit from a sales person having an assisted selling tool to quickly inform me that despite the fact they don't have what I am looking for in inventory, that I can get the style, color and size of jeans or shoes I want in another local store or shipped to my home in two business days at no extra cost- most definitely! I personally appreciate the human interaction with a good sales associate when shopping in the store. As long as technology doesn't interfere with that and complicate the transaction then it likely will contribute to a positive experience for the customer, while also hopefully contributing positively to an internal business objective or KPI (e.g., improved customer satisfaction, reduced inventory carrying cost, increased sales, increased margin, etc.).

Two, avoid hidden barriers to success. Retailers need to consider all angles when defining the ultimate in store digital experiences, specifically the desired behavior and process changes of the sales associates and related store operations team members. Experienced sales associates should be included in creating the digital experience concepts and future state capabilities. Management also needs to address the potential negative impact to incentive structures. Retailers need to create buy in early, or they risk creating something that nobody wants to use.

Technology revolutionizing eCommerce

RC: Technology is expanding the possibilities when it comes to customer intimacy and personalization. Advances in marketing technology and data processing afford brands the opportunity to provide more individualized experiences.

Stitchfix is a great example. They refine recommendations based on a wide range of customer data and behavior. That’s pretty standard, but they also provide lots of opportunities for the customer to share information about themselves in a fun and interactive way. An example is being able to link a Pinterest board to your personal stylist so they get a better idea of your style preferences. Customers don’t want to search through a huge number of irrelevant items only to find the things they want after a long and painful journey - they want to easily connect with items they love and be inspired along the way. It’s important not to be too creepy. Everyone is different. Some customers may be delighted at the thought of getting a personal call that the latest season’s styles are in store, while others may shudder at the thought. Technology allows us to gather more data than ever before so it’s important to let customers design their own experience and navigate the shopping experience on their own terms.

PP: Expectations of digitally enabled consumers will continue to accelerate at a pace that few retailers are prepared to address. The rise of ultra slick, ultra convenient digital experiences from the likes of Airbnb, Hotel Tonight and Uber have raised the bar for all digital experiences. Customers wonder why they can’t get the exact item they need in an instant when they can summon a car or find the right boutique hotel with a few swipes and taps. To deliver these new, higher-than-ever expectations, the customer journey must be built as a part of, not apart from, core operations. Many of the core operating functions can no longer be viewed as “back of the house.” The role of merchandising, from product design, assortment selection through manufacturing can no longer take 12-18 months–fast fashion and the Uber-ization of delivery have reset the goal line from weeks to days to hours. Yes, these changes will require investments of technology, processes, and organization. Yes, it will take time to get faster. This is why companies need leaner, more pivot-friendly infrastructure  that will allow them to meet and exceed ever changing customer expectations.

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