Sahal Laher, SVP, Chief Digital & Information Officer, Destination XL Group, Inc. [NASDAQ: DXLG]
Retailers have to integrate data across the retail enterprise to have a 360-degree view of the customer, but it’s not an easy thing to do. What are your thoughts on getting this act right?
The fundamental objective is to give customers a consistently high level of service regardless of where or how they interact with a brand. We can do this by making it easier and more convenient to shop, enriching the quality of buyer interactions, and by anticipating the needs and expectations of our customers. If one of our customers from London visits a New York store, sales associates should be able to recognize that individual and pinpoint his or her buying preferences and purchase history within a matter of a few seconds. Likewise, when a shopper dials customer service, every touchpoint we have with the customer should be reflected and aggregated. In this way, a good 360 customer view can help brands personalize their service in real time.
Many retailers focus on merely marrying in store transactions with ecommerce transactions but the 360 view of the customer transcends that. The customer master database of the future should have every single touchpoint that the customer has had with the retailer regardless of whether or not it culminated in a sales transaction. This includes a full understanding of communication preferences, style and size preferences, as well as the relationship between sales, promotions, and returns. This should be augmented with external data including demographic information as well as social media sentiments. Ultimately, we need to know our customers not as data points but as people.
Can you illustrate how technology is revolutionizing more than ever thought before in 1-2 business segments in your work environment and is so critical for your business to succeed?
There is extreme competition in the retail industry today and thousands of stores are closing in on what is being described as the retail apocalypse.
CIOs need to get themselves out of the back-office and become collaborative business partners
You cannot focus merely on survival; you have to have innovation and disruption as top priorities on your roadmap. Focusing on survival or a single core competency has been the downfall of numerous behemoths such as Blackberry and Blockbuster Video. Nobody can be content with the status quo, no matter how strong your supply chain is.
Inventory management is a discipline that must evolve. The traditional processes for buying, allocating and replenishing products are generally too rigid and unified commerce is putting more pressure on order fulfillment processes. Consumers demand a simple and seamless purchasing experience across channels. Eliminating silos of inventory is a critical first step but not the ultimate goal. It is imperative to leverage technologies such as machine learning to become more efficient and to do so with a sense of urgency.
Innovations in customer engagement and experience are a second pillar that will allow retailers to stay relevant and grow their presence. This hinges on a strong 360 degree view of the customer but requires a strong digital core that can drive personalized interactions both in store and across digital touchpoints.
With your rich experience of managing IT organization and steering technology for your enterprise, can you please share some of the unique lessons learned and your advice for fellow CIOs?
The role of the CIO continues to evolve and is starting to encompass more elements of digital strategy. The future of the CIO is less about being someone who keeps the lights on and shaves pennies off budgets in a cost center. Corporations are looking to the CIO for strategic leadership on how technology can be a revenue generator. The digitalization of the economy is all about how to reduce friction points in consumer interactions and becoming easy to do business with anytime, anywhere, any device. Device does not only refer to a hand held device such as smart phone or tablet. The internet of things (IoT) is here to stay with Gartner predicting over fifty billion IoT devices by 2020.
Big data is another buzz word that is rarely leveraged to its ultimate potential. Today we have more data than we have ever had: decades of internal data, market research on competitors, and social media. The data alone will not fuel growth but better real-time decision making and business insights will. This represents a unique opportunity to embrace this digital evolution and make technology a profit center. CIOs need to get themselves out of the back-office and become collaborative business partners who are constantly looking at how the latest technologies on the market can disrupt the customer engagement paradigm and drive their brands to new growth. Remaining grounded and driving alignment and prioritization in the boardroom will be essential if you want your brand to avoid being the next casualty in the retail apocalypse.