Customer-focused digital transformation is important for any retail business, but the pandemic-induced volatility and fast pace of change in the industry means that such transformations need to occur in all areas of the enterprise, from product design to planning and supply chain. This more expansive view of digital transformation has been one of the key lessons learned by Matthieu Houle, CIO of Aldo Group, during his five-plus years working up the IT ranks within the company.
When Houle started with Aldo Group as Senior Director of Digital Technology, “We were primarily focused on digitalizing our retail experience across all channels,” he said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “This involved creating a seamless omnichannel experience that allowed customers to interact with us both in-store and online without friction.” Now, however, “the [digital transformation] journey has been marked by a consistent effort to leverage technological advancements to create value for our customers, enhance internal processes and drive business growth.”
Aldo Group has leveraged SAP as a key partner of its transformation journey, with Houle noting that its suite of enterprise solutions serves as a “backbone” for many key operational systems. Most importantly, they are supporting the business as it aims to evolve to a “more unified and data-driven approach to retail.” Specifically, the partnership has helped support:
- Aldo Group’s enhanced ecommerce and customer service strategies;
- More personalized and data-driven marketing strategies;
- Streamlined business processes that span supply chain, inventory management, sales and finance;
- Improved inventory visibility and allocation across stores and warehouses; and
- Workforce engagement and skill development.
As Houle sets his sights on future growth and innovation, he shares an exclusive look into his priorities and perspectives on the changing retail landscape.
Retail TouchPoints (RTP): As CIO, what do you believe are the most pressing challenges Aldo Group is facing, and how do you plan to support the business and tackle these challenges successfully?
Matthieu Houle: The retail landscape is becoming increasingly complex, and Aldo Group is certainly not exempt from this complexity. As the CIO, I see two major challenges that we need to address and transform into opportunities:
- Harnessing and leveraging data: One of the most pressing challenges is the effective use of data. With the exponential growth in data generation and availability, the task of harnessing it effectively is paramount. We have a wealth of data at our disposal, from customer behavior and preferences to supply chain and inventory details. However, turning this data into actionable insights that can drive decision-making and create value is not without its challenges. It involves not just the right technology but also the right skills, processes, and culture.
- Agility in a dynamic market: Another key challenge is ensuring agility in our technology strategy. The retail market is highly dynamic, with changing customer expectations, emerging technologies and evolving business models. We need to be ready to adapt quickly and pivot our strategy as necessary. This requires not just flexible technology but also agile methodologies and a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.
RTP: What key consumer behaviors are you aiming to respond to as a brand?
Houle: Consumer behaviors have evolved significantly and as a retail brand, we need to be attuned to these changes and respond proactively. The rise of digital technology and the aftermath of the global pandemic have both influenced how consumers interact with brands, and it is our responsibility to ensure that Aldo Group is well-positioned to meet these evolving needs in three broad areas.
- Unified commerce: Consumers today expect a seamless shopping experience across channels. They want to browse online, try products in-store and make purchases on mobile. This shift toward unified commerce requires us to blur the lines between physical and digital retail and create a consistent and integrated customer experience across channels.
- Personalization: With the amount of choice available today, consumers expect personalized experiences tailored to their preferences and behaviors. This involves personalized product recommendations, marketing messages and customer service.
- Sustainability: There’s a growing demand among consumers for sustainable and ethical products. They want to know what impact the product they buy has on the environment. At Aldo Group, we are proud to have been the first shoe and fashion accessories retailer to obtain the carbon neutral certification back in 2018 and to now strive for Net Zero emissions by 2050.
RTP: Can you share any insight into what your near- and long-term investment priorities are as CIO?
Houle: Over the course of my tenure as CIO, I’ve learned many valuable lessons, especially around the pivotal role that technology plays in creating a seamless and memorable customer experience. Here are some of the key takeaways I would share with my peers:
- Prioritize the customer in every decision: In every technology initiative, we must ask ourselves: How does this benefit the customer? How does it enhance their experience? It’s not just about implementing the latest technology; it’s about how that technology can be used to create value for the customer.
- Leverage data but don’t forget the human element: Data is crucial for personalizing the customer experience and making informed business decisions. However, it’s important to remember that data is just a tool. It’s not a substitute for human insight and understanding. We must balance data-driven decision-making with empathy and an understanding of our customers’ needs and desires.
- Agility is key: The pace of change in the retail industry is accelerating, and agility is more important than ever. We must be ready to adapt quickly to changing customer expectations, emerging technologies and evolving business models. This requires not just agile technologies but also agile methodologies and a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.
- Cybersecurity and privacy are non-negotiable: As we become more digital and data-driven, the importance of cybersecurity and privacy cannot be overstated. We must ensure that our systems and data are secure and that our customers’ privacy is protected. This is not just a matter of compliance, but of trust. If our customers can’t trust us with their data, they won’t trust us with their business.
- Collaboration across silos: Creating a seamless customer experience requires collaboration across silos, and it’s not just the job of the IT department but of the entire organization. Everyone, from marketing and sales to supply chain and customer service, must work together to create an integrated and consistent experience across all touchpoints.
Being a CIO in the retail industry is both a challenging and rewarding role. It requires a balance of technical expertise, strategic thinking and customer focus. But the opportunity to shape the customer experience and drive business growth makes it all worthwhile.