Digital retail calls for agile approach, say experts

To embrace digital technology, retailers need to adopt an agile nature across the entire business and break down internal silos, said a panel at Retail Week Live

Retailers will not be able to fully embrace digital technology until they break down the silos that separate digital teams from the rest of the business, according to an expert panel.

Speaking at Retail Week Live, executives from a variety of retailers said retail businesses need to adopt an agile way of working and stop thinking of digital as a separate part of the business.

“We have to stop calling it digital business,” said Adam Warne, group IT director of AO.com. “At what point we you start calling it just business?”

AO.com was “born digital”, according to Warne. As for many such firms that were developed in a digital-first era, this make it easier to test, adapt and learn from “failures” in an agile manner to meet customer demand.

Agile should not just be a “software delivery thing”, but a “business-wide thing”, said Warne.

“In five years, the world will be a completely different place,” he added. “You have to keep revising, you have to keep changing, and you have to be agile.”

But most retailers are held back by complex legacy systems, which can cause silos and make it difficult to integrate new technology, make fast decisions, or interpret customer data.

“In five years, the world will be a completely different place. You have to keep revising, you have to keep changing and you have to be agile”
Adam Warne, AO.com

Doreen Man, international digital director of The Body Shop, said adopting agile methodologies was about “being nimble” across the business as a whole to keep up with the pace of changing consumer demands.

“We’re in a fast-changing environment because of digital,” she said.

Retailers need to change their mindset, she added, moving away from a waterfall model and building a long-term vision with incremental delivery to allow change to happen more quickly.

Alongside digital adoption, retailers are finding the vast amounts of data they collect can finally be useful by using data analytics to distinguish consumer buying behaviours.

Man said The Body Shop’s analytics team empowers the rest of her team by helping the business to understand its customers and react more quickly to how they are behaving and what they want.

“Data doesn’t lie – who here would challenge data? It’s proof in the pudding,” she said.

Where once retailers were in charge of deciding what customers had access to, now customers can vote with their feet. They are no longer happy being treated as a large group, but rather individuals with different needs.

Man said data allowed retailers to cater to what customers want, as opposed to the previous retail approach whereby retailers had to guess what the customer might need and group large numbers of people under the same category.

But consumers now expect a personalised experience which caters to them as an individual, both in physical stores and online, and they want a seamless experience between those channels.

David Walmsley, former chief customer officer at House of Fraser, said some organisations end up with “A” customer programme, which is not enough for the modern consumer who wants to be rewarded and recognised, and often won’t even notice when they are shopping because it is so ingrained in our lives.

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“Customers don’t care if they’re shopping online or in store, they don’t even recognise if they are shopping these days,” he said.

Consumers are becoming increasingly fickle, with retailers depending on the experience they receive. Many will not hesitate to shop with a different brand if they are not happy with a product or service, and consumers are more likely to trust reviews from other customers than advice from retailers.

Social media is also allowing customers to be more vocal about their opinions of a brand too.

Walmsley stated it should be “impossible to avoid that customer feedback in the business” and that retailers should focus on shifting towards a “customer-centred” approach. “You should be able to put all of the customer feedback in your lifts so everyone can see it, even visitors to the business,” he said.

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