We are all quite familiar with examples of how digital transformation has had a tremendous impact on mass-market retail, from the rapid growth of Amazon.com to anecdotes of supermarkets noticing correlations between beer and diaper sales and adjusting their merchandise layout accordingly. But how has the move to digital impacted high-end retailers? This was a fascinating topic we discussed with Susan Jeffers, founder and CEO of XY Retail. XY Retail provides scalable, cloud-based tools for bespoke brands and retailers to move their processes to the cloud and mobile.
Massive Changes in Retail
Susan described some of the seismic shifts occurring in retail: “There is massive change occurring in retail. One of the many indicators of this is the growing delta between new store openings and store closings between 2013 and 2018 (see image below). And to think this trend was all well before COVID-19!”
However, despite these seismic changes, Susan explained how the fundamental principles of retail remain constant: “Retail is transforming, but the key principle has always been the same, which is that ‘First Moment of Truth’ where you need to provide customers what they want, how they want, when they want, and where they want, at every touchpoint. This has not changed. What has changed is the explosion in the number of available touchpoints, and this should be seen as an opportunity. Think of all the potential touch points involved in operating a single physical store, which might be in the hundreds. Now expand this out to an ecosystem with multiple stores, multiple websites, global retail partners, social media interactions, AR and VR experiences, and the Internet of Things. You are looking at potential touch points moving into the billions. The challenge for this innovation has been integration and fragmentation between systems, and to manage this level of complexity, retailers will need entirely new systems, processes, and ways of thinking.”
Founding of XY Retail
Susan described how a deep understanding of retailer issues caused by this disruption led to the founding of XY Retail: “Seeing the need for this new approach, we embarked on a journey at XY Retail to develop a data-centric platform driven by the semantics of the business along with our customers. The good news is that we are able to run an entire brand with a global presence on one platform while automating many of the key business processes such as launching new collections, seamless fulfillment across locations, and managing the product life cycle between wholesale, retail, outlet, and e-commerce. We spent a lot of time talking to retailers and understanding their pain points, and we saw they were facing the following common problems:
There was a disjointed customer experience across online, in-store, and customer service.
They were losing sales in stores due to a lack of visibility into warehouse stock
They had no unified view of data for executives, strategic planning, merchandising, and demand and supply forecasting
They didn’t have a unified view of customers across channels.
To address these issues, we set about building a platform that would enable the following:
Provide the ability to manage millions of touch-points
Enable blended digital and physical customer experiences
Facilitate better data-driven decisions
Provide the ability to see their customers’ spending habits across the enterprise with one click rather than spending large amounts of time pulling data separately from each store.”
Augmenting Rather than Replacing Salespeople
Susan made the key point that in high-end retail, salespeople are as critical as ever. Rather than technology replacing salespeople, retailers need to think about how technology can augment their capabilities: “Something as simple as remembering birthdays is important; if technology can help salespeople keep a track of all their customer’s birthdays that is extremely useful. Another example is taking notes of customer preferences (this person likes blue, that person prefers this brand, etc.) which can be shared seamlessly across salespeople. If a particular customer comes into the store and their usual salesperson isn’t there, there should be a seamless way for another salesperson to step in with all the updated information available.”.
Customer Experiences are Key
Susan shared further insights into how digital transformation will shape retail in the years ahead: “It is critical for brands to have the ability to adapt to this new reality, which is 1000+ channels. An ideal modern age retailer would have an interconnected set of demand channels and interconnected and interdependent supply pipelines. That’s always been the holy grail of retail and what we facilitate with our platform. Brands and retailers need all their data together so they can make smart decisions on stock, cash, promotions, discounts and have AI-driven decisions and automation. The pieces to this puzzle are all there, the key is to put it all together so the data just flows between employees, partners, customers, and investors without logging into 10 different systems to get an answer to basic questions. Brands will also need the ability to design cross-channel, cross-partner collaborations to stay competitive. The integration challenges involved to do this are difficult, but will need to be developed.”
Susan concluded by describing how ‘Customer Experiences’ will be the cornerstone around which the technologies of the future of retailing will need to be built upon: “All the concepts such as retailer, brand, supplier, wholesaler, trade shows, etc. will fundamentally transform around customer experiences. The entities which were designed around the constraints of the past era will no longer apply. While no one knows exactly what the future of retail is yet, the prospect of newer platforms with connectivities (aka highways) built to applications with the ability to be deployed globally should excite everyone. Our vision is to provide a one-page app for every user connected to a brand that gives them all they need to do their tasks. On the one hand, it’s simple, but on the other, it’s also complex and rewarding. Fashion is our first industry where we are applying this concept, and our bet is that a set of interconnected and relevant screens will make a huge difference as no one wants to open 20 different locks to do their job or find answers to their basic questions!”
We hope you enjoyed reading Susan’s insights on this topic as we did discussing them with her. We would also like to get your feedback: we would love to know what innovative customer experiences in higher-end retail you have experienced recently that made an impression on you? Which brand was it and what did they do well? Please share your experiences and we will incorporate your feedback into future articles.