In a dynamic and fast-changing digital world, strategic advisers can help retailers keep up with what shoppers want, writes Chloe Rigby.
Omnichannel retailing offers an experience that’s ever more convenient and easy to use – at least for the shopper. Behind the scenes, the task of keeping the customer satisfied across a range of touchpoints makes for complication, especially when legacy systems designed for siloed retailing must adapt to the joined-up approaches of the new commerce.
This is a scenario familiar to strategic consultants and digital agencies working with retailers of all sizes on reimagining businesses for a digital age. “We’re seeing the melting and blurring of the channels together,” says Jon Banks, business development director at consultancy and payment services business The Logic Group. “Therefore you’re seeing some of the market leaders in this space really focused on delivering a seamless customer experience across the business and their channels. It sounds simple but it’s not always so, often because businesses have grown up with different channels. Ecommerce may have grown and be successful but may not be on the same infrastructure as the store business.”
What’s required now, though, he says, is a “holistic” approach to retail to replace channel-by-channel thinking.
Nanda Balasubraniyan, partner at Portaltech Reply , says the task that faces retailers and consultants is around developing relationships with customers that inspire purchases, using relevant touchpoints. “Through consulting we allow these organisations to understand their strengths from the context of brand and services, and make sure the technology deployment that they’re thinking of is the best way to reach that goal,” he says.
Whether retailers want strategic help on a specific project or more generally to redesign systems for a digital age, the type of consultancy chosen will depend on the task in hand. Start by understanding what the business goal is, whether to increase conversions through new payment choices, or to take a global organisation omnichannel. Don’t expect set answers on how things are done. In the face of fast-developing digital commerce, the consultancy process is one of understanding how to set about finding a solution that works. Large-scale challenges are often best tackled with small steps, as the consultancy and in-house team work to find a solution that can be replicated across a wider area of the business once it’s been proven to work.
Factors to consider
Traders will, then, be looking for consultants that have experience and understanding of how to approach specific business goals. That may be a small, specialist agency looking after one particular function, whether that’s mobile or payments, or a large digital agency that can work across the board, or a combination of several agencies. A recent project by Sainsbury’s to implement a new platform, for example, saw lead digital agency Salmon oversee more than 10 different third parties.
Martin Ryan, associate director of the Javelin Group Technology Consulting practice, says: “The soundest strategic advice is delivered by consultancies highly familiar with retailers of a similar geography, size, complexity, business model and sector, and in particular by those with real-world implementation and operational experience.”
Meanwhile, Banks of The Logic Group , which specialises in multichannel payments and loyalty, says niche agencies offer in-depth knowledge and experience.
Ask industry peers for recommendations of agencies or consultants, and agencies themselves for references. Look for clear understanding of how work is being done today, what the legacy platforms and existing real estate are and how they can be developed to provide value. Innovative ideas for doing things differently may challenge the requirements as initially set out. Make sure that consultants have experience of the technology and the type of solutions that will be investigated. Culture is also important – agency and in-house teams should be capable of collaborating and working well together to deliver a vision that can be implemented on time and on budget.
Once consultants are appointed, structuring the project well will ensure it keeps to its goals. When consultants are delivering an ongoing service rather than a short project, says Martin Ryan of Javelin, “Procurement can help to negotiate service levels and escalation routes, exit clauses and ability to ramp up and down a service if future demand dictates.”
Portaltech’s Balasubraniyan suggests that teams work well towards short, well-defined goals with frequent and relatively informal updates on progress. Such an approach, he says, gives team members the freedom to innovate and be creative.
Costs, finally, will always be judged relative to how much value the service adds to the business. Where a project is fixed-price, it’s important to make sure the statement of work is well defined against deliverables and the time taken to achieve those.
Ten issues to consider
1 Enabling omnichannel commerce is not always enough: retailers must start with a compelling proposition that means the consumer will find, and want to use them.
2 Never assume: when both retailers and consultants keep an open mind as to what the solution will be, consultants have the freedom to come up with good answers.
3 Look for innovation: successful solutions of the past are not necessarily those of the future as the pace of change accelerates.
4 Planning matters, part one: retailers that scope the project thoroughly at the beginning are less likely to add new requirements halfway through, risking escalating costs and missed targets.
5 Planning matters, part two: understanding the complexity of the task will help give a realistic approach to the time and resource that it is likely to take.
6 Keep on top of project milestones: ensure they’re being hit on time and on budget.
7 Prove it: ask consultants to prove they can deliver the expertise. “Retailers rarely, but really should, ask strategic consultancies to demonstrate they can deliver a composite team of experts from across several disciplines, including the operational roles such as technology, logistics and supply chain,” says Javelin’s Ryan. “A strategy is only sound if it can be successfully embedded into an organisation’s technology and retail business processes at reasonable cost.”
8 Think about consumers: the end customers and the service they demand should be front of mind for retailer and consultancy alike. Ask consumers what they want to see through surveys or focus groups, and test results before finally implementing them.
9 Delivering digital strategic projects is a collaborative process: make sure teams can work together well. Meet the consultants who will work on the project as well as the senior staff who will supervise before making a final appointment.
10 Change the culture: businesses need to change more than technology to adapt to future consumer demand. Make sure that changes are understood throughout the business, so that staff know why technology is changing and what that means for the way they work.