Speed of Retail
By John O'Reilly / January 2017Insights
*This article first appeared in Retail CIO Outlook
When consumers demand instant gratification, including fast delivery and information at their finger-tips, the speed of retail must be accelerated. Add the rapid technology upgrades every six months and retailers are facing a hyper-competitive environment as never before.
For retailers mired in bureaucracy and plodding budgeting processes, these traditional mindsets are stopping them from responding to consumer demands and marketing opportunities in a timely manner.
Retailers need to take the advice of Sam Walton, “To succeed in this world, you have to change all the time.”
In fact, the Walmart founder asked the company’s senior officers in the 1990s to refer to plaques with this quote to remind them to keep moving and advancing.
“Every day in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better be running.”
What can retailers learn from this simple statement?
Some retailers may need to reinvent themselves to remain competitive. Even if you don’t have a large research and development budget, retailers may be able to leverage social media to listen to consumers through their customer support departments and surveys versus pushing out mass marketing material.
In addition, there are hundreds of free data available, including Data.gov, the U.S. Census Bureau, The CIA World Factbook, World Health Organization, Amazon Web Services, Facebook Graph, Google Trends, Pew Research Center and more.
As new technologies and industry disrupters emerge, it’s imperative for retailers to anticipate their target markets’ desires. The main imperative is for retailers to listen to their customers and adjust strategy accordingly. The key is to be willing to change to avoid the mistakes of Blockbuster and other companies that became obsolete because they weren’t able to reinvent themselves.
Is your unique value resonating with your market? Does your message differentiate you from competitors and enhance loyalty? Are your locations and online presence relevant to today’s shoppers?
To confirm current marketing messages are connecting with ideal consumers, many retailers are activating their customer service departments and harnessing social listening. Of course comparing year-over-year sales figures and store and web traffic are a primary indication that your marketing and positioning statements are relevant. Some retailers are including modeling and analysis of look-alike shopper behavior to inform decisions.
Savvy retailers are also using mobile applications to gauge shopper interest and drive promotions. For example, Target’s Cartwheel App was recently upgraded to allow shoppers to see personalized offer recommendations based on past purchase and app usage, while simplifying the checkout process. Touted by Target execs as having a larger and more frequent mobile app user base than almost any other retailer, Cartwheel guides store navigation and is a powerful tool for managing promotions and coupons.
Nordstrom is a Social Listening Leader, closely monitoring Pinterest and featuring frequently pinned items in its stores. By arming salespeople with an iPad app that reveals popular pins, Nordstrom enables associates to adjust inventory levels by store and departments to ensure trendy items are always in stock.
The landmark book, “Integrated Marketing Communications: Putting It Together and Making It Work” by Don E. Schultz, Stanley I. Tannenbaum and Robert F. Lauterborn, explains that mass media advertising no longer works by itself. Retailers must shift to customer-focused marketing and integrated communications across multiple platforms.
With a diverse, fragmented marketplace, marketers need to understand the lifestyles, attitudes and motivations of distinct buyer groups to predict their likely buying behavior. The authors recommend building a synchronized, multichannel communications strategy that reaches market segments with a single unified message.
To develop integrated marketing communications with synergistic efforts across departments, suppliers, partners and outside resources, retailers should turn to their CIO and IT Department.
Revelation – The IT Innovation Center
A critical component for retailers to achieve speed to market is using software to acquire, serve and retain customers. Retailers will need to move from seeing software and their IT teams as a cost center and instead begin using IT as an Innovation Center.
A recent survey conducted by BT and Ovum found that 80 percent of retailers devote their time to updating and maintaining legacy software and databases, with only 13 percent using resources to transform applications for the digital age. A major gap is that many retailers’ existing systems either can’t provide or offer only minimal customer insights across product and channel, impeding the retailer’s ability to offer personalized service and messages.
This means legacy systems are slowing retailers and blocking them from innovating, reinventing themselves and pivoting to better address customer and marketplace demands.
CIOs and IT Departments must be empowered to develop or invest in systems that offer a comprehensive view of customers across product, department and channel. New systems that will streamline the enterprise marketing workflow and facilitate the promotional campaign process to drive relevance to your customers and sales throughout your organization.
The ideal IT Innovations will include:
- Software to support retailers in better predicting customer demand and traffic, manage and move inventory and provide a seamless customer experience over multiple channels.
- Solutions that remove communications barriers between departments by creating a centralized database for all assets – images, product descriptions, specifications, price guidelines, branding standards, legal requirements, etc.
- Systems that provide the most current and correct data available, enhancing collaborations and speeding business decisions to support inventory management, minimize out of stocks, and address competitors by region and even at the store level.
- Sophisticated software to support multichannel, personalized communications and optimize an omnichannel experience, removing the lines between instore and online shopping.
With legacy systems requiring numerous updates, frequent fixes, and patches at the most inconvenient times, retailers are advised to consider whether they should continue to put money and resources in out-of-date systems or begin investing in modernizing their processes.
Your CIO and IT teams can partner with solutions providers that bring technology expertise, people with retail experience who understand your specific needs, knowledge of the marketing and promotions process and user-friendly tools, as well as training for your staff.
The right solutions partner will help you manage costs, reduce competitive pressure, focus on the customer and accelerate the speed of retail.
Contributed by John O’Reilly, Vice President of Business Development – Aptaris