Executive ViewPoints

The retail industry is fortunate to include numerous executives with extensive experience — and they are willing to share their insights in the Retail TouchPoints ViewPoints section. These byline pieces focus on industry trends and do not include solution provider sales pitches. Many of the byline pieces receive the greatest number of clicks on the RTP site each year.

The Retail Internet Of Things (IOT): Turning Your Store Into An App

VP Schwartz head shotRetailers are an innovative bunch. We adopt and trial new technologies at a more nimble rate that other verticals. In a world where shopper marketing, field marketing and consumer insights have all been merged into an unending list of “mobile path-to-purchase” solutions, the retailer gets an A for effort.

Before we celebrate our successes, let’s look at another vertical: Cities. Like stores, their consumers are changing, their services need to adapt. IBM invested approximately $350 million in smart city technology and marketing trying to reinvent the metropolitan centers globally and have perhaps made 10 % return on this effort. But 557,000 cities spend $4.5 trillion per year, 10% of the global GDP.


Think You Need An Independent Consultant To Optimize Your Retail Operation? Consider These Four Questions

As a retailer, your technological needs run the gamut. Many pertain to human capital management — payroll, time and attendance, workforce management, employment law compliance and more. Additionally, there’s employee engagement, turnover and other concerns. 

In the processes of evaluating and deciding on which solution to purchase, the temptation is to seek an independent consultant. Often, that’s the right move. But independent consultants’ effectiveness varies widely. Their expertise and experience can provide a retailer with valuable insight, yes, but just as often consultants’ involvement causes more problems than it solves. Why? Some consultants are more aptly described as third-party sellers. They promote generic processes and cookie-cutter approaches. Communication might be command-and-control, keeping vendors from interacting directly with you. It’s all designed to bring about outcomes that benefit their bottom line — at the expense of clients.


The Perils Of Not Knowing Your Assortment Speed To Market

VP Ugam head shotRetailers are currently operating in an era of hyper-competitive commerce in which competing retailers have the same products, match prices, provide similar shipping options to consumers, and enjoy flexible supply chains. There isn’t much differentiating one retailer from another.

As far as today’s consumer goes, the social, mobile and technology revolution has resulted in a shopper who is connected, informed and vocal. These shoppers are always on the lookout for the best deals and are acclimatized to dynamically changing prices. They have access to tools that help them get to the right product, on the right channel and at the best price. The modern consumer is more empowered than ever, bringing an added level of complexity to the competitive landscape.

Given these realities, not having products listed on an e-Commerce site on time and at the right price can certainly be perilous for retailers. In the long run, it may create a gradual shift of loyal and high-lifetime-value customers to competing sites. This naturally impacts market share and in turn, sales. It can also create a perception that competitors are one-upping you in terms of getting new products to market. You appear to be the laggard and may have lost your competitive edge.

High stakes, information transparency and to need to be relevant to their customers are driving retailers to benchmark assortment speed to market metrics with respect to their competitors.

However, this cannot be an ad hoc effort. It requires focused attention in terms of continuously monitoring a number of products and product categories across key competing retailer sites over an extended period of time — something that can be difficult and time-consuming to do alone. Depending on the category, this is a potential Big Data challenge and calls for relevant analytics expertise.

Understanding your time to market for a particular brand and product category combination enables you to go back and focus on one or all of the following:

  1. Strategic relationships — Retailers have long-standing relationships with their vendors, but what worked in the past may not hold well in today’s fast-paced digital environment. Backed with data, you are able to go back to your vendors to renegotiate supply timelines for products and / or categories where you feel you are at a disadvantage.
  2. Operational concerns — In many cases, vendor timelines may not be the problem. Operationally, your products may be taking a while to get online due to the volume of new products, lack of bandwidth or know-how to set these up online. If the data suggests your competition is getting their products to market much faster, you may need a revamp in the way you set up products on your website.

Several retailers are unable to create product descriptions for a large inventory of new products at a quick pace. A smart and cost-effective method of ensuring speed to market is to create templates to generate product descriptions. Templates can be made for all broad categories with placeholders for product-specific information. These templates ensure that product descriptions can be generated en masse, thus resolving speed issues.

Policy or system challenges — Retailers may have policies or systems in place where they wait for an entire batch of products from a particular vendor / designer before the merchandise appears online. Evaluating your competitors’ speed to market and potential opportunity lost in terms of lost sales may warrant a relook at these policies or systems.

One way a retailer can make up for slower speed to market is to plan assortment farther in advance by predicting which products will be hot and when. This will provide extra time, and can give a retailer a huge competitive advantage. Predictive analytics can help retailers identify what assortment to add, keep and drop. Knowing what assortment is likely to be a best seller before competitors or knowing what items to stop carrying before others can be a useful competitive edge to aid speed to market decisions. Predicting trends is regularly listed as a key risk factor on annual reports — being one step ahead of competitors could mean the difference between a profitable or unprofitable quarter.

In today’s retail environment, it has become imperative for forward-looking retailers to benchmark their assortment speed to market, investigate the likely causes of delay and take appropriate action as quickly as possible.

Mihir Kittur is Chief Innovation Officer and Co-Founder at Ugama global leader in managed analytics. 


How To Get To Omnichannel…Fast

VP Shopvisible head shotAs consumers, we’ve been experiencing omnichannel retail in our everyday lives.  Retailers know that today’s shopper uses all channels available to them, including multiple channels for a single purchase.  Consumers want to go online and quickly serve themselves, gleaning pricing, availability and delivery times from a retail website. Based on that information, they’ll place orders and choose how they want to receive them, with options such as direct shipping or in-store pickup.  With time and convenience being critical factors to customer satisfaction. 

To provide one personal real-world omnichannel example, I’ll share the experience of walking into Nordstrom’s. An associate there had the ability to look instantly to see whether a shirt I wanted was available in my size in the store, online or in another store. Then, upon finding the desired shirt, that associate placed an order to have the item shipped right to a Nordstrom’s of my choice, or even more conveniently, to my doorstep. We only need to have this experience once to realize, this is the way it is supposed to be. And each day our newest omnichannel experiences raises the bar higher.


Turning Showrooming Into A Retail Advantage

VP site only Pop-Up Artists head shotBrick-and-mortar retailers are howling about “showrooming.”  Someone comes into the store to see, touch and experience the product, only to return home to the Internet to compare prices and buy it elsewhere. But what if retailers could turn “showrooming” into their advantage?

The good news is retailers can! By displaying samples of e-Commerce brands, taking orders through the existing e-Commerce brand web site and getting a cut of the action. Savvy retailers can even charge a base rent, calculated on sales per square-foot, the model that Bloomingdale’s uses for shop-in-shops. 


Differentiation Will Keep Offline Customers From Going Online

Let’s be honest. It’s far more convenient to shop from your couch than drive to the store, find what you need, load it in the car, and then unload it when you get home. Isn’t it easier to have everything delivered to your doorstep?

With recent large-scale closings by Staples and RadioShack, it seems like retail is on the verge of oblivion. But brick-and-mortar retail isn’t going anywhere any time soon.


Is That A Cash Register In Your Pocket?

VP Iterate head shotIt's hard out there for a credit card company nowadays — everybody's getting in your business. In a moment when new technology is disruptively looking to squeeze extra efficiency out of everything, from the empty seats in our cars (Uber) to the unoccupied rooms in our homes (Airbnb), the 2% to 3% interchange fees that banks and credit card companies charge on every transaction make for a fat, juicy target.

Apple’s NFC-enabled iPhone 6 comes equipped with Apple Pay, the company’s highly touted mobile payment technology. Apple Pay stores users’ payment card information, allowing in-store payments with one-touch checkout when a shopper holds their phones up to a reader. This comes with the added security of never exposing the user’s credit card number to the light of day, allowing the expected reduction in fraud expenses to justify the costs of rolling out the new system. Apple boasts participation from 220,000 stores as well as the major credit card companies and banks, showing that they will work within the existing credit card-based ecosystem familiar to users (at least for the time being).


The Small Business Retailer’s Guide To Preparing For The Holidays

VP site only head shot 1The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is potentially the most profitable time of the year for retailers, which also makes it one of the most competitive. Small businesses may think they are in for a tough contest with the many deep-pocketed, big-box chain retailers.  Using tailored marketing and smart planning, any small business has the potential to attract shoppers and their holiday season spending.


Is Your Online Business Prepared To Meet The Holiday Customer Service Rush?

VP Volusion head shotThe 2014 holiday season will be one of the shortest on record, with only 26 shopping days existing between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. This number is just one more than the 2013 season, and a whopping five days shorter than in 2012. Because of this tight window, holiday shoppers will be more hurried and frantic, which means that your online business will likely encounter an influx of customer service inquiries.

As we approach what’s projected to be the most lucrative holiday season in ecommerce history, it’s imperative that you equip and prepare your small shop to deliver exceptional customer service. The good news is that it takes just a little bit of planning and elbow grease – to help out, take a look at these areas of focus to spread that holiday cheer.


What The Revamp Means For Mid-Market E-Retailers

VP site only head shotBig changes are underway at the world's largest big-box chain. Wal-Mart will be rolling out a more personalized e-Commerce site in 2015, which they promise will "make shopping easier and simpler for customers." Pulling weather, location and purchase history to generate user-specific home pages, the new feature will allow Wal-Mart to face off with that other retail juggernaut, Amazon.

Of course, Amazon is generally undaunted by competitive moves — the e-retailer has first-mover advantage. With its growth strategy of commerce-first + commerce-meets-physical, Amazon is already embracing the inherent nimbleness and rich data-driven model of a digitally native company, implementing "last mile" channel deliveries such as local depots for click-and-collect.


6 Signs Your Personalized Marketing Efforts Aren’t That Personalized

VP emnos head shot 1It’s no secret that when it comes to marketing, retailers are increasingly shifting more and more of their resources toward delivering a personalized experience for their customers. However, most retailers will tell you that their communications are truly one-to-one, when in reality, many still have a very long way to go.

Here are six signs that your personalization efforts may have room for improvement:


3 Secrets To Drive Customer Engagement On Your Web Site

VP site only Adage head shotOnline engagement is quickly becoming the number one performance indicator of an effective web site. Through successful customer engagement, companies are able to fulfill customers’ needs, while building loyalty and increasing each customer’s lifetime value. However, companies can’t achieve customer engagement just by establishing a social media presence or providing useful resources and information on their web site, but rather, it’s about leveraging these tools, as well as the interactive nature of the Internet to create meaningful interactions with customers time and time again.

Sounds easy enough, right? Not so much. Sure, marketers know trends like mobile and social, but there’s still a real disconnect between implementing these tools and using them to drive engagement and build long-term relationships. By following the three tips outlined below, you’ll be able to foster ongoing and valuable conversations with customers online.

1. Listen to your customers

Customers are constantly providing you with valuable feedback on their needs, wants, and uses for your web site and other digital assets. Today’s customers know what they’re looking for, and are not hesitant to tell you whether it’s through an email to your customer service team, a comment left on a blog post or a post on one of your social media profiles. You can also turn to your web analytics. Looking at your site’s analytics provides you with key insight into where customers are spending their time on your web site and where they are avoiding.

Despite customers voluntarily providing such useful information, few companies actually take the time to analyze this information and use it to improve their digital presence. Taking this approach and ignoring what your customers have to say is a surefire way to lose valuable customers.

2. Customize your customers’ experience

The most successful conversations with customers occur when they’re relevant, intriguing, and most importantly, unique to their own needs. There are countless connections that exist between you and your customers; it’s just about finding them. This can easily be done through web personalization and by presenting unique content to different individuals based on your previous interactions with them. By using personalized content that’s driven by your existing customer data allows you to make a lasting impression and create a value-added experience for both them and your organization.

Because of your CRM system, say you know about 15 percent of your customers reside in Chicago. You have a big sale going on in your Chicago stores this month to help boost those locations’ revenues. Because of your integrated platform, your web site has direct access to your CRM system, which knows exactly which of your web site’s visitors live in or near Chicago. Using your web site, you can take this information and serve Chicago customers a customized web experience that highlights the upcoming sale in your Chicago locations. This is almost guaranteed to drive both online engagement and in-store engagement, as your providing them with content that not only pertains to them, but also interests them.

3. Measure your success

As with any business decision, measuring your success is key. Without taking the time to evaluate the success of the changes you’ve made to your web site and digital presence, you’ll have little insight into whether or not customer engagement has really increased.

Look to your social media, web analytics and CRM system for guidance. These platforms can help you track and see how customer engagement has improved. For instance, social media allows you to see who is responding and commenting on what posts. Google analytics provides insight into which Facebook or Twitter posts are driving quality traffic to your web site, as well as if your web content personalization strategy is leading to longer time spent on your site and more conversions being made. Your CRM system will then help you identify high-value, individual customers and see what activity they’re participating in on your web site, what products or services they’re purchasing and what content they’re engaging with most.

Measuring your success will not only provide you with great insight into how your tactics so far have impacted customer engagement, but will also provide useful information on what steps you should take next to further enhance the customer’s online experience.

Success on your web site comes from making connection points with your customers and demonstrating your value to them. By enhancing your customers experience through personalization and ease of use, you can achieve your goal of increasing customer acquisition and retention.

Roy Chomko co-founded Adage Technologies in 2001, combining a passion for technology and the desire to build a company focused on driving business value through web technology. As President, Roy's energy and customer centric approach have helped to grow Adage to a well-respected web and software development firm. Roy has over 20 years of experience in technology sales, consulting, and development. 


The Benefit Of Clicks Before Bricks In International Markets

Sean Sands
As retailers explore new international markets, they are increasingly looking for quantifiable proof points of success through online channels. Internet retailing enables companies in their efforts to build their brand beyond domestic borders with a natural testing ground for products, while also allowing them to initially reduce the risks of opening a physical store in uncharted territory.

It is no secret that the retail world is becoming significantly more and more digital. Internet and mobile retailing are forecast to continue their strong growth over the next five years. In 2013 Internet retailing recorded a 15% value growth, which was the strongest rate across all retail channels, and also generated $6.5 billion in revenue. The increased consumer demand for online goods and services along with the convenience of online shopping have been driven by continued growth in computer literacy, accessibility, internet speeds and security. Consumers are able to enjoy the convenience of online shopping while retailers reduce costs associated with owning a physical store.


Using Mobile Ads To Drive Customers To The Cash Register

VP 4INFO imageThe path to purchase has changed with the times. Many marketers still associate mobile ads with mobile commerce, but that’s yesterday’s thinking. Today’s reality is that mobile ads lead to in-store cash registers, and there are numbers to prove it.

Your customers are on a mobile device 150 times a day. Most shop online before they hit the stores, and their smart phone is virtually always in hand. Mobile advertising delivers an average 7.5% sales lift — and more than 90% of those sales are happening in stores.


Finding The Right Audience With Social Analysis

VP site only Networked Insights head shotThe World Cup dominated the news this summer, even in publications that don’t typically cover sporting events. Despite the early U.S. elimination, American consumers and brands stayed involved in the action from their introduction to Cristiano Ronaldo to Luis Suarez’s bite to Germany’s impressive win. More importantly for marketers, the Cup provided evidence that real-time marketing has come a long way since Oreo’s legendary Super Bowl 2013 Blackout tweet.

Regardless of World Cup sponsorship status, brands leveraged the excitement in marketing activities, some more successfully than others. Examples include the anticipated Nike Risk Everything campaign, the commercial from Cup newbie Beats by Dre’s Game Before the Game campaign and the inevitable Coca-Cola v. Pepsi battle.

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