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GUEST OPINION The four imperatives of doing business in the digital age

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Retailing used to be so simple – open a store, source products, buy one, sell one and repeat. But digital has changed all that. Here Shane Finlay, Director, Retail, SAP UK & Ireland talks us through what you need to hit sales nirvana

Back in the nineties and noughties the land-grab for retail space was all about increasing the number of stores and developing an online presence. The race to offer multi-channel retailing was on, as market leaders rushed to grab online market share and tripped over each other to innovate and increase their offering to consumers.

This led to the growth of home delivery, click and collect and third party omni-channel service providers, but these were delivered at the cost of retail margin erosion and a proliferation of IT and operational complexity.

Retailers are now facing an even tougher task in the face of sky-high consumer expectations. To meet these demands, they require technologies that are more intuitive, drive additional value and are easy to use online, offline and across all devices.

Yet our research with PwC revealed that only 50% of consumers feel they get a consistent and superior multi-channel experience from their favourite retailers. This indicates that there is much work left to be done by retailers. Consumer demand for a seamless experience across channels is driving the next revolution in business capabilities and putting increasing strain on the search for profitable omni-channel growth.

Achieving total retail nirvana

While retailers recognise the need to evolve their technology capabilities, few have plans in place to meet consumer demands. If they are to achieve the nirvana of ‘Total Retail’ – that being a fully integrated customer experience regardless of channel – they need to drive business transformation across their organisation. It is vital to look at incremental steps that will help organisations put digital enablement at their core.

Transforming operating models and business capabilities requires fundamental changes to the end-to-end value chain, through integrated technologies that enable a truly customer-centric organisation. Real-time insights across the organisation, using powerful visualisation tools, ensure a seamless experience across channels, which is now the expectation from customers.

Here are four key objectives for retailers to ensure their destiny remains in their hands in this increasingly competitive digital world.

  1. Create a truly customer-centric organisation: This is the age of customer centricity. This doesn’t mean tactical investments in online and digital presence, but foundational investment in a customer-centric operating model. This requires an integrated technology platform that reshapes the retail business model and places the consumer at the heart of planning and execution.

  2. Integrate the end-to-end value chain: Businesses need to integrate all customer touch points across stores, online and mobile. These must be underpinned by an integrated data models, processes and systems across POS, order management, consumer service and data to ensure that all customer interactions are personalised and relevant across channels.

  3. Deliver personalised customer offerings and interactions: It is imperative to deliver personalised interactions based on deep insights, making your offering relevant to an individual consumer by delivering to their interests, needs and transactions across channels. A prime example of this is Under Armour, which makes relevant, time-based recommendations to customers while they are on their journeys through the ‘MapMyRun’ app. The app is an open platform which seamlessly integrates with fitness tracking devices, sensors and wearables. By pinpointing the location of runners, Under Armour is able to make products available that are relevant to them, with the cherry on top being the customer sensing that their ‘local’ store really fits their needs. By transforming interactions into a two-way valued relationship, supported by innovative loyalty programmes that address the needs of the individual, retailers can foster loyalty and create a new revenue opportunity. This is not just online but also in store, using digital technology to enable staff to offer the same experience regardless of channel.

  4. Integrate and optimise the retail technology footprint: It is impossible to serve the needs of connected consumers without the right enabling technology. In the digital age, this means retail systems optimisation and investment in differentiating capabilities such as data integration. However, to ensure this growth is possible, it needs to ripple all the way down the digital value chain, from demand forecasting and planning to product development, merchandising and supply chain optimisation, which underpins loyalty and digital engagement.

Few retailers have the key components in place that enable them to stay competitive in the digital age. While the technology capabilities are available, an integrated vision and execution roadmap to address these imperatives is lacking. It’s time for retailers to get fit for the digital age or risk being left behind by more forward-thinking competitors.

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