“Something seems wrong in a world where half the email messages sent are urgent. Can everything really be that important?” — Gene Kim, co-author, The Phoenix Project.
For today’s retail Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO), in fact, everything can seem quite urgent. After all, he or she is on the front lines of protecting consumer data privacy, keeping all systems operational, and oh, by the way, guiding the way to successful digital transformation. It’s all in a day’s work for a retail CIO/CTO.
But that doesn’t mean prioritisation is easy. Those urgent emails from the CEO, CFO, Director of Store Operations and the rest of the leadership team — not to mention busy computer technicians and project managers looking for direction — are enough to make even the most focused, dedicated IT chief want to activate the out-of-office alert and disappear for a long holiday. Yet the show must go on. And these days, that show must be always on, always seamless — frictionless even — for the end consumer.
Creating the Frictionless Experience
CIOs realise frictionless retail is about having a frictionless POS, regardless of where a sale originates. Doug Gardner, CIO at River Island, knows this well. The beloved U.K.-based fashion brand has successfully expanded internationally and has elevated the role of technology in its core strategies. “We want people to come into our stores and enjoy the physical shopping experience of being in-store with the staff and getting to touch and feel the clothes,” Gardner told Computer Weekly. “Adding in the digital layer means they can run that transaction very seamlessly and comfortably — and that’s a huge advance.”
For some retailers, that digital layer might be the ability for associates to personalise an experience for an individual shopper, offering a customised promotion. For others, it could be the POS capability to locate an out-of-stock style elsewhere in the retailer’s organisation and arrange to have it shipped to the customer’s home or have it ready for pick up the next time she pops by her store of choice. For yet others, it is the associate who is armed with all the information he or she needs to be a true brand ambassador. It is the store team member ready at the customer’s side with helpful upselling and cross-selling suggestions, making the shopper feel valued for being there. Digital transformation is all of these things and more, with the CIO leading the way.
Another U.K. retailer that has expanded globally is health and wellness specialist Holland & Barrett. A key element of frictionless commerce for this innovator is having a holistic view of its shoppers. “One of the biggest areas of focus in retail in the next couple of years will be about having a comprehensive 360-degree view of your customer,” Holland & Barrett CIO Mark Fabes told Retail Week, as reported in a Retail Gazette blog post. “The overarching aim is to leverage deeper knowledge of how their customers engage with their business across all touch points, helping them reach decisions that create a truly blended experience across all channels.”
Achieving End-to-End Integration
To deliver a seamless experience, retail CTOs are laser-focused on seamless integration. Many see the advantages of an all-in-one solution that centralises their data and gives them real-time visibility to both customer and product information. As John Lewis CIO Paul Colby told Computing, “If you’re responding to customer needs, it’s not just about nice front ends. That’s really important, but it’s about the entire end-to-end process. So the fact that you can order on johnlewis.com before 8 p.m., then click and collect at any store by 2 p.m. the next day is because we’ve also invested in our distribution system, in order [management], and we’ve invested in very automated warehouses to enable us to provide customers with that experience.”
To achieve this end-to-end connectivity, CIOs are looking for cloud-hosted, always-on software that is secure, consistent, mobile, scalable and compliant. Ultimately, this means APIs must be highly accessible, and the software platform must be forward compatible. The last thing a busy CIO needs is to be burdened with bugs and glitches every time he or she needs to integrate a new data stream, set up a payment gateway or go live at a new store location. The CIO/CTO needs to know the software provider has done its due diligence in quality assurance testing and has dedicated support teams standing by, globally, to troubleshoot any issues and deal quickly and capably with the unexpected.
“Having everything as a data point in your system allows you to start to think about automating relationships between that data,” said John Allen, CTO at Missguided, in an Essential Retail article. “So now we have a single view. The next step is to start more automated relationships between that data. Ultimately, that’s what good retail businesses will be doing in the next five to 10 years. They will be really streamlining those data movements so there are very few manual interventions, except where it is required.”