Power to the people! Five folk you need to befriend, to power digital transformation.

By Andy Hill September 4, 2019

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We recently worked with Retail Week on ‘Retail Re-Engineered’, a report exploring just what brands in the retail space, amongst others, are doing now to create strategies for success in the digital era.

A key takeaway for me was the importance of people. You can’t just rely on the robots, y’know. Ultimately, no matter what your digital transformation strategy is, you need a) people with the skills to implement it and b) buy-in from actual real life humans (internally and externally) to get it to work.

Retail Re-Engineered highlighted that 36% saw a lack of internal digital skills as impacting their re-engineering efforts, and 27% mentioned lack of buy-in or cultural adoption of transformation initiatives as having an impact.

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While retailers’ spending priorities lie in new tech (and rightly so), 25% said they are investing in ‘Digital skills / people’ to improve their ecommerce operation, so a quarter of the market at least is on it. The report explores how transformation will impact the workforce so, with that in mind, I thought I’d take an alternative look at some of the people you might want to bring along on your digital transformation journey.

Your change manager.

There’s a new kind of change manager in town. Or, there should be. Traditional, linear business transformation models simply don’t work for digital. There’s too much going on. There’s too many departments to adapt. There’s too much information to be rationalised. It requires fundamental changes to the business.

You may not have a dedicated change manager, but to begin your journey towards digital transformation, you need to have relevant change management skills in place.

The thought of implementing digital transformation initiatives can be overwhelming. There are so many variables to consider, people to involve and technologies to understand. And this is all on top of your day job. But digitalisation isn’t going anywhere, and it needs confronting head on. The right change management skills, and a clear roadmap to the end goal, will at least offer some clarity and a more manageable plan of action. 

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Your store manager.

If you have one. Even if you don’t, perhaps investing in square footage might be in your future if you’re looking to create some compelling brand experiences. 57% of respondents expect to see growth in store in the next 12 months. But, the jury’s kind of out on what the store will look like in the short term. 

Moves are happening to make spaces more experiential. Act more as a community hub. Do more than just sell stock. Maybe not even sell stock. Whatever happens, store managers will be increasingly important people to get to know. You can scrutinise purchase data, of course, and you absolutely should, but store managers have insights into their customer base. They overhear conversations. They observe. They have tribal knowledge that will serve you well as you seek to turn simple square footage into a personalised experience. Retailers should think strategically about customers’ emotional drivers and why they want to visit a store, and invest in physical space accordingly. Numbers in your spreadsheets can tell you a lot, but anecdotal insight is just as valuable. Store managers can help.

Your customer.

Naturally! But with the consumer expecting personalisation, and purchase data allowing you to know them more intimately than ever, you better believe you need to stay close. There’s a trade off in the increasing amounts of customer data you enjoy: the more they give, the more they expect. 

No technology is going to be the silver bullet that wins the digital day for you. Anyone can implement a new technology. What sets digital domineers like ASOS apart is how they use technology and the data available. How they engage their customers in their own, unique way. The loyalty they’ve created, which often means a lot more than price.

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Your delivery partner.

Retail Re-Engineered found that 43% want to work more collaboratively with supply chain partners to help re-engineer their business. And, a whopping 86% are investing up to 30% more in their supply chain than they did three years ago. This is so necessary.

Whatever form retail ends up taking one, three, ten years from now, fulfillment will be critical. As purchase channels get more complex and disparate, so does the back-end work to put the parcels in the customer’s hands. Shipping from store, dark store, DC or drop ship is going to need to be your bread and butter. As Gen Z wields more spending power, the pressure to give them what they want, when they want it, will ramp up even further. This is a generation that doesn’t know life without the internet. They’re the generation that renders BHS irrelevant. They’re hard to impress. But impress you must, through fast, seamless, responsive service from checkout to doorstep (just like N Brown did).

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Your... Mark Zuckerberg.

Oh yes. Didn’t think we could get through a round up of Important Digital People™ without a mention of your friendly neighbourhood Zuckerberg, did you? I add him to the list with a little bit of tongue in cheek, but a lot of sincerity too. 

Ultimately, we need to look to the big five not only for inspiration but, from a very practical standpoint, to see what’s going to happen next. Where Zuckerberg et al lead, the mainstream follows. So we need to understand the moves Facebook, Amazon and co. are making to be able to confidently predict where our strategies should go next. 

Final thoughts.

Of course, there’s no single blueprint for digital transformation. Each business is unique and each transformation will progress uniquely. It might not be a comprehensive hitlist, but hopefully this blog gives you some guidance on where to make your acquaintances, based on what I'm hearing when I’m catching-up with our retail partners. You can read more of Sorted’s analysis of the Retail Re-Engineered report, in ‘The budget battle: retail digital transformation plans’.

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