The 5th Tenet of Retail Digital Transformation

Guest Blog Post By E.G. Nadhan

Walking into the Executive Exchange Session at the CDM Media CIO Retail Summit in New York, I had formulated five fundamental tenets of digital transformation in the retail industry. The session was about the Race to Retail Digital Transformation between business and IT – who will get there first? After all, retail is all about transforming the consumer experience, provided technology can enable this continuous journey. The room had more than 25 leaders from global enterprises that are living these challenges across the manufacturing and retail industries. I quickly set the context and suggested that there were five tenets of digital transformation in retail. Join me as I walk you through what came out of this thought-provoking session.

Business racing with IT? Yes! A resounding phrase I still remember from the NRF Conference is that the retail industry will go through as much transformation in the next five years as it did in the past 50 years. However, for such transformation to be effective, let us take a closer look at what matters and what doesn’t!

Tenet One: Channel Does Not Matter
Whether it be online, over the mobile phone, or walking into the store, the channel does not matter to the retail customer. Omnichannel is streamlining the overall customer experience. However, there are other factors to this as was asserted during the session. The online and mobile channels do not readily support the in-person handshake and emotional interaction. Customers are more likely to dismiss a pop-up window than negate an offer from one human to another. One representative of a leading construction equipment manufacturer indicated that the omnichannel options opened up opportunities for their equipment with other online retailers that did not exist before. Thus, even though the channel may not matter to the end customers, it forces the manufacturers and retailers to think differently about the retail business.

Tenet Two: Location Should Not Matter
We are now able to ship and receive any item to and from nearly any location. Say, for instance, my spouse is vacationing in Hawaii or just walking the Magnificent Mile in Chicago and she finds an item of her liking. She is then able to order it in the store or online and have it shipped to a location of her choice as well as the ability for it to be received by the person of her choice.

Tenet Three: Automation – and People – Matter
Let us not lose sight of the human element. Whether the greeter at the front of the store or the clerk wishing you a nice day, the human element matters! Automation done right is all about increasing the overall efficiency of the end-to-end retail process while redirecting the brainpower to more innovative applications. Next-generation technologies open up options for new business models and newer ways of enhanced customer experience.

Tenet Four: Innovation Matters
Such enablement requires an ecosystem of passionate members to collaborate by bringing together diverse perspectives and embrace innovation. Whether it is between retail enterprises or individuals with expertise in the business of retail, collaboration is the most effective mechanism to sustain innovation. When I referenced Gartner Fellow, Darryl Plummer advocating Connect – Don’t Collect for data sources in the Gartner Symposium last year, Boeing Fellow Brian Laughlin chimed in with a different take on it. Laughlin interpreted the concept of “Collect” being more about siloed teams that do not collaborate with each other and “Connect” being more about unity driven by collaboration and exchange of information. Cognitive diversity through collaboration is fundamental to innovation – which brings me to the fifth tenet.

Tenet Five: Context Is Queen
Laughlin explained that for years, retail used to be about location, location, location. With retail’s online presence, this mantra evolved to be content, content, content – what is presented to the customer online. Well, now it is about context, context, context. When the customer is at the store looking for a product, the retailer must have all the relevant information about the customer’s purchasing patterns and within easy reach to make appropriate suggestions. However, this is true for all retail channels. Context with relevant information defines the business moment for the customer. Moreover, it is not just about the data itself, but about the combination of perspectives applied to the synthesized data. Diversity of thought results from the diversity in gender, ethnicity, nationality, etc. The manner in which a male sales associate processes the data about a customer could be very different from his female counterpart. The retailer wants a diverse array of perspectives to better serve the customer and ensure the right context is provided. Context, augmented by diverse perspectives, is the new mantra! Thus, if Content was King yesterday, Context is Queen today!

What say you?

How is your enterprise doing in the race to digital transformation? Are there other tenets that matter for retail digital transformation? Please let me know.

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