IMG_0108Last week I attended the Retail Week Tech & Ecomm event in London, where retailers shared their experiences around technology and their journey to omni-channel.

It was fantastic to meet with and hear experiences from so many retailers – Software AG clients both existing and prospective – Waitrose, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Sainsburys, AO.Com and Nissan (yes Nissan – more of that later). For me there were a number of highlights and takeaways that I’d like to share with retailers around the world.

There was a fascinating CFO-led discussion about John Lewis and its recent changes to click & collect charges, in terms of which part of the business was the prime mover behind the changes—was it finance, store operations or the online team? It was suggested that orders below the £30 threshold were very few but the numbers were increasing. No one offered any analysis as to whether click & collect drives additional in-store sales, but there seemed to be some agreement that this questions the operating model and process in terms of where and how they fulfilled these orders— because margin-erosion was occurring. Orchestrating omni-channel orders whilst minimising margin erosion remains a huge problem for so many retailers.

I joined a panel session with Tom Fuller Head of IT Planning & Engagement at Waitrose, and Julie Price, CIO of White Stuff, discussing the changing role of IT and how IT could bring value to the business. We all agreed that the role of IT had changed from being mainly a service provider to something much more strategic, consultative and innovative. Ten years ago, IT often reported to the finance department, whereas now in most retailers it has a seat on the board. Fundamentally, IT is at the heart of every initiative a retailer undertakes; IT now has an entrepreneurial responsibility to bring value to the business with new ideas.

Stephen Kneebone, the CIO of Nissan, said the car company has a lot in common with retailers. After making the audience think about the car being the ‘ultimate connected mobile device,’ he talked about modelling the customer journey so that the whole business is involved, in order to fully understand and optimise it—because knowledge is spread across such a wide group. As occurs in traditional retail, Nissan’s customer contact has evolved across multiple channels; 10 years ago an average customer visited a dealer 7 times before purchasing—now it is just over once. Because there is less opportunity for physical engagement, the engagement on other channels needs to be much better.

Software AG had a stand/booth where we exhibited our Omni-channel-focused solutions plus Smart Store Monitoring. Smart Store Monitoring was displayed on a large screen and created a huge amount of interest in its ability to monitor and react in real time to in-store sensors and data feeds. Monitoring inventory, sales, promotions, colleagues, customers, beacons and queues all together can provide real actionable insight for both head office and store management.

Here are some other titbits I heard at Retail Week Tech & Ecomm:

Quotes:

  • Andy Haywood, CIO of N Brown stated that IT is not a turf war between the business and the IT department – the enemy is outside and is competing for your customers.
  • End-to-end supply chain is key for ecommerce to ensure inventory availability.
  • Tom Fuller, Head of IT Planning & Engagement at Waitrose talked about how things were no longer about technology, as technology can do anything , it is about the people—customers and employees.

Hackathon:

On the second morning, I tripped over sleeping system engineers who were taking part in a 24-hour Hackathon with 8 teams competing to create a simplified multi-channel shopping experience.

The more memorable entries included:

  • An iPhone app that adapts recipes to your special dietary requirements; suggestions appear on screen allowing you to swipe in different directions based on your choices and including an incorporation to Apple’s Passbook for discount codes for the required ingredients.
  • A team focused on the problem of how to get a very large assortment in a very large store. The solution they came up with created a form of highly personalised endless aisle app for use in store that could also help avoid lost sales due to out-of-stock inventory.
  • A team from Cisco was focused on retrospective Location Analytics; the solution was so well-polished that it looked as if some work had taken place prior to the 24-hour period.
  • The team from ASOS looked to streamline the customer side of the product returns process.
  • A team from Tesco Labs built a piece of kitchen hardware that enabled you to ask for dinner suggestions and once you have decided it then stepped you through the creation instructions and allowed you to verbally tell it what items to put in your online basket.

And while the Tesco Labs team didn’t win, perhaps it means I can learn to cook after all!

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