Thought Leadership from Industry Peers

How Retail CIO’s will Face up to the Demands of Omni-channel Retailing

David Callow | 16 November 2016

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Continuing with our blog series, on what keeps retail CIOs awake at night. Our fourth edition focuses on the demands put upon IT teams by omnichannel retailing.

There is no doubt that there has been very significant change over the last few years in the retail marketplace. Digital transformation is affecting all industries and sectors but there is an immediacy for retailers and their customers which is leading to rapid innovation in customer journeys, transactions and interactions. This situation is only likely to accelerate in the immediate future. Customer expectations of both technology and the retailers’ ability to respond to, and utilise that technology, is sky high. Adoption of new consumer devices is extremely rapid and is very much led by the consumer with the retailer left playing catch up if they are not careful.

This is where the CIO needs to select his or her partners carefully; a good omnichannel retail solutions company is hard to find. The real differentiators are real-world experience – a few hard-earned battle scars; a pragmatic no-nonsense approach and a sense of fun. This last element should not be under-estimated as, in my experience, the success of a project is directly proportional to the motivation and enthusiasm of the project team!

A purely opportunistic or tactical approach to retailing whilst giving benefit in the short term will ultimately lead to complexity and costs that make sustaining those channels and the integration between them, very difficult and costly. For example, to merely recognise a channel and become present within it (such as developing a customer app) is not enough in its own right. It needs to be developed and integrated with an overall strategy in mind – a strategy which puts the customer at the heart of the retailer’s operations.

The challenge for the retailer has really become one of how to make the links between channels seamless from both a customer and retailer’s perspective. This is the definition of omnichannel retailing.

True omnichannel retailing will allow customers to choose how and when they use functionality in a particular journey. Furthermore, that functionality will be intuitive to use and will be consistent regardless of the channel or point of execution.

The pressures this brings to bear on the IT team is significant. The demands to link the intuitive, super-sexy front ends to the clever and fully integrated back-end systems and information, are great. All of this workload needs to be delivered at pace and with agility as the expectations of the consumer and therefore the internal retail customer will only increase.

For these reasons omnichannel retailing is certainly a ‘keeps me awake at night’ for most retail CIOs. The good thing is that the digital era is genuinely creating new opportunities for retail innovation and that these do need thinking about. Whether that thinking is done by the CIO in the daylight hours or overnight is a moot point but it is not a topic that can be ignored.

David Callow Former CIO - Debenhams

David has worked exclusively in retail throughout his career, from store management at Argos to technical roles at The Burton Group and senior IT roles at Debenhams including operating at CIO level. David has extensive experience in multi-channel, e-commerce and store systems as well as the back of house implementations in Data Warehousing, HR and Finance.

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