Retailers Expand Use of Technology Solutions
AI becomes "Personal"
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The Digital Journey
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Nick Spann, VP, Information Systems & CIO, WilcoHess
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The Face of Retail in the Digital Era
By Nate Kredich, COO, PIRCH
It’s critical, especially in a business like ours which is several parts retail and several parts service. Our CRM allows us to target our marketing communications based upon the customer’s journey, whether they’ve found us online, through an in-store event, or if they’ve purchased from us in the past. Specifically, their prior transactions and experiences inform our marketing opportunities so, for example, if we have multiple service tickets to fix their old gas grill, we know they are more approachable with ideas on how to replace that item.
Connecting the Dots
Our biggest effort to date is the recent relaunch of our entire digital presence. We recognize that, while our business model relies on a highly experiential, person-to-person interaction, there is vital information that some customers want as part of their vetting process on where to shop: Do they have the breadth of product to choose from? Are they conversant in the products’ attributes and limitations? Can I be inspired and get new ideas? We’re connecting those dots through a highly interactive digital hub (our mobile-enabled website) that allows consumers to begin their inspirational journey with PIRCH. Our entire digital presence relies on both cloud and hosted data, and is amplified by our considerable social media efforts.
Pursuing the Retail Trade
I’m amazed every day by the technology solutions being birthed in pursuit of the retail trade. As an example, we have utilized ShopperTrak technology for years, yet now it has the ability to connect a wider array of consumer behavior to our own sales activity, and we can either use their analytic tools or else pull the data into our own system for deeper analysis.
The Storm of Big Data
There’s no question of the potential value here, the question is how to appropriately use it. With an average order value of over $6,000 we are now mining hundreds of thousands of larger transactions to help us better prepare for seasonal events, store openings, etc. However, I believe mainstream retailers are moving deeper in this area out of fear of the analytic power of companies like Amazon, and the outcomes are not necessarily delivering value to either customers or retailers.
Our website relies on both cloud and hosted data, and is amplified by our considerable social media effort
The Retail Vogue
I’m particularly intrigued by the work being done today with in-store consumer engagement. We were looking at a local company recently called Stickshift which works with brands and retailers alike to augment the efficacy of in-store displays while providing consumers with added content and value.
I think this is going to become a crowded space: bridging the gap between digital and physical, all the while reducing the ‘creepy’ factor to the consumer, will be an exciting battleground to watch.
The Changing Role of CIOs
Well, I serve as PIRCH’s COO, which means I have one foot in technology, one in logistics, one in corporate governance, and one in general operations. My role has been to translate the strategy set by our CEO into tight people and operational processes. In particular, we’ve assembled strong functional leaders – both internal and external – that allow us to realize those strategies around customer engagement and operational efficiencies. For example, we decided years ago that the only way to efficiently handle the complexities of our customers’ needs was to develop our own customer-facing order entry system. We subsequently built a strong internal team of department leaders, developers, and data specialists, then augmented it with selected outside (both local and offshore) resources that helped us make the correct platform decisions. Today we have the industry’s most advanced and intuitive guided order entry system whereby our customers can begin their shopping experience online, then continue it seamlessly with a tablet-equipped advisor in our store. So my role in all of it is the same: providing strategic and directional clarity, then helping to remove obstacles.
The Endless Priorities
Our constant struggle is the same as any organization: resource prioritization. We have an endless ‘wish list’ of priorities, from ERP enhancements and upgrades to hardware and platform decisions. What has worked well for us is a ‘stage-and-gate’ process whereby my team works with the business leader to communicate and quantify the benefits of a proposed project. We have a committee that evaluates project proposals in various stages (from conception through to execution), and a project moves through the next ‘gate’ toward approval based upon its calculated benefits. It’s helped us be more targeted with our resources.
The Embedded Technology
It means quite a bit since we are in the appliance industry, which has long been touted as the hot sector for IoT. We recently partnered with a firm called Innit, which has developed technology that not only connects you with your appliance but also your food. Their basic value proposition is that, via their technology, your food itself can talk to you: by connecting to appliances in your home (refrigerator, oven, etc) it can recognize specific attributes of what’s available to eat, guide you on what to cook and how to do it efficiently and healthily, and even warn you of any potential food issues or allergies. We were so impressed that we embedded their technology into our new SoHo showroom, and we are working closely with them on how to extend their technology into the products we sell everyday.