The recent announcement that Amazon is acquiring Whole Foods Market has rocked the business world, as pundits, retailers and grocery execs struggle to wrap their heads around what it all means. Darrell K. Rigby, head of Bain & Company’s global innovation and retail practices, spelled it out in the Harvard Business Review: “From today onward, the only viable retail strategy is to try to advance and merge digital and physical capabilities faster and better than Amazon does.” In other words, retail is long past overdue for a true digital transformation.
Making Strides with Digital and Physical Feedback
Neil Blumenthal, Co-CEO of Warby Parker, told The Wall Street Journal back in January: “I don’t think retail is dead. Mediocre retail experiences are dead.” Elevating the retail experience to meet the demands of today’s on-demand and omnichannel consumer, however, requires understanding the digital and physical feedback that tells you what they want. In other words, it takes data—and lots of it.
In her Internet Trends 2017 report, analyst and author Mary Meeker spotlighted men’s shirt retailer Untuckit, which creates a synergistic digital / physical feedback loop between advertising, in-store and online interactions. The company reports a more than 2.5x increase in website visits from 2015-2016. Meeker also pointed to women’s professional-wear retailer MM.LaFleur, which is combining its data-driven, online styling / e-commerce site with a new high-touch, appointment-based, brick-and-mortar experience. Presumably, an individual’s online data is leveraged for the in-store personal styling session and vice versa. According to Washington Post, MM.LaFleur has experienced 300% year-over-year growth since 2013.
Both Untuckit and MM.LaFleur are clearly innovators, yet they lack a dedicated mobile app solution. That means they’re missing out on leveraging the vast amount of uniquely contextual user insights a mobile portfolio can deliver. This “daily digital trail” could give them a more detailed and personal understanding of their best customers than ever, enabling more relevant engagement at every touchpoint—whether it’s online, in person or via mobile app.
Where Retailers Are Missing the Point
The fourth-annual CEO Viewpoint 2017: The Transformation of Retail survey from PwC and JDA Software Group, Inc. indicates that 85% of global retail executives said they are investing in mobile-enabled applications (or plan to) over the next 12 months. 86% reported current or planned investments in big data. And overall, the survey found that a digital transformation strategy is the #1 priority for 2017.
Many U.S. retail execs…still have not defined or begun implementing digital transformation strategies, and some of them appear to be really struggling.” – Retail Dive
Yet, Retail Dive’s analysis of CEO Viewpoint 2017 noted that “The more interesting thing is that many U.S. retail execs, according to the survey, still have not defined or begun implementing digital transformation strategies, and some of them appear to be really struggling.” Digital transformation, as Retail Dive sees it, is about getting the organization on the right footing to compete at the highest level. This seismic shift needs to happen before adopting new technologies or ingesting huge new volumes of data. All the new toys in the world will do retailers absolutely no good if they’re not positioned to take full advantage of them.
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So What’s the Remedy?
Retail Dive says it’s likely that “retailers need to do their best to transform themselves from digital immigrants to full-fledged digital citizens, or they need to hire more digital natives to show them the way.” Actually, they need to do more than that.
Retailers, like all brands today, need to recognize and accept that they can’t treat mobile like a bolt-on to their larger digital strategy, because mobile drives the in-demand experience and customer journey. It’s time to build smarter strategies around the mobile application lifecycle and adapt organizational structures accordingly to achieve the digital transformation that’s necessary now.
Circling back to Amazon / Whole Foods implications, Bain & Company’s Darrell K. Rigby echoes the theme, noting that traditional retailers have got to relearn how to innovate and move to adaptive, agile and multidisciplinary teams (like software dev teams—there’s that mobile app lifecycle again!), all of which takes a deep commitment and a significant financial investment. As cited by Rigby, Amazon spends more than 11% of sales on “technology and content.” This past January, IHL Group reported that top retail CIOs were increasing their IT budgets by 4.7% in 2017. Yet those same CIOs said they’d need to increase their budgets up to 236% to compete effectively against Amazon.
They may be right, and yet that giant forklift isn’t likely to happen soon. What can happen is that retailers find a mobile partner who deeply understands mobile application lifecycle management and can help digitally transform in a stepwise, cost-effective way. With an integrated mobile solution, retailers can continue to iterate and expand their mobile strategies in a nimble way that moves towards their overall business objectives, gaining momentum as they go. Sometimes transformations are “overnight;” sometimes they’re gradual. The important thing is to begin with a partner who can help you succeed, every step of the way.
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