For years, CIOs were seen as order takers rather than change agents or strategic drivers of company growth. That perception is shifting; today’s retail workforce demands more from IT. The employee composition has shifted to include new positions with unique needs, from warehouse associate to e-Commerce manager. The standard corporate IT stack no longer cuts it when it comes to maximizing both employee and customer experiences. Meeting these evolving demands requires investing in IT, but the true “secret sauce” lies in hiring a game changing CIO.
As the CIO of Fuze, a communications and collaboration software company, I have had the pleasure of working with many of these visionary IT leaders across industries. Retail is one of those industries that finds itself at a unique inflection point. Today’s game changing CIOs are doing a lot more than helping manage costs or tech buys. They are changing the fabric of how companies work. These IT leaders understand that digital transformation is a continuum, not an event with a finite end. It is a continuous effort to modernize work streams with technology and automation.
When it comes to driving broader business goals, retail CIOs need to execute the following tactics:
Prioritize Digitalization Of The Physical Store
Top retail CIOs prioritize simplicity and efficiency, business agility and optimizing the customer experience. These are key pillars to keep in mind when rethinking brick-and-mortar. Digitalization of the physical store is a way to efficiently convey everything it can offer, in turn maximizing sales, while delivering on customer preference for unified experiences across channels.
For example, the CIO of fashion retailer BCBGMaxAzria, Robert Fort, has a clear focus on uniting e-Commerce and in-store commerce to create the “experience store.” This first came to life when managers rolled out tablets to all of the company’s stores, giving customer service agents and in-store style consultants the ability to use the tablets to help customers with online orders, with access to the brand’s full assortment from a virtual endless aisle. They followed this shift with additional innovations that helped them achieve more widespread business goals, maximizing sales through new persistent selling tactics. By visually displaying the entire inventory, they could easily offer additional merchandise based on the customer’s personal preferences with the complete season at their disposal.
In-store digitalization is also crucial from an inventory and optimization perspective. Global lingerie powerhouse Group Chantelle is adding RFID tags in new store prototypes to track the availability of merchandise and better facilitate supply chain functions. To maximize the customer experience, the company also is adding devices in dressing rooms that would enable shoppers to pay for goods right after they try them on.
Digitalization can only succeed if CIOs integrate it from online to in-store. Investing in new in-store tech and simplifying systems to avoid disjointed experiences is critical to solving many of the problems retailers face today.
Break Down Silos To Maximize Collaboration
Speed is essential in modern retail. The CIO holds the keys when it comes to empowering employees with the right communications tools. This doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, sporting goods retailer Hibbett Sports made a strategic decision to emphasize phone calls as its primary communications vehicle. The company encourages employees to simply make the call, solve the problem and move on. Hibbett also is planning to offer a “bring your own device” policy to maximize convenience with devices employees already know how to use. This puts the onus on the employee to engage in real-time and proactive-problem solving. Hibbett CIO Ron Blahnik realized that communications tech must fit employees’ needs and preferences first and foremost, not the other way around.
Internal communications is key to removing inefficiencies within an organization. CIOs must design and apply solutions that help teams move faster, in an effort to raise service levels and make better decisions that can ultimately lead to revenue growth. Group Chantelle CIO Andre Wei is laser-focused on collaboration in an effort to break down silos. Wei is rolling out new communications technology capabilities with the goal of reaching across his global staff of 2,500 by the end of 2020. Successful completion of the deployment will mark the first time its stores will have a direct connection to headquarters, enabling the entire organization to communicate and collaborate in real time and better connect global workers.
In the future, we can expect to see even more complex models of store-to-store communication via chat services or shared channels. This will enable stores to rapidly share best practices, such as suggestions around product placement, that could drive higher sales. Better communication enables quicker implementation, giving stores the opportunity to easily pivot and maximize sales across their entire footprint.
Make An Informed Choice Around Innovation
Retail is a unique beast. Today’s IT leaders understand that tech innovation must be strategic, well-executed and tied to business goals. Game changing CIOs recommend a “test and learn” approach to validate the business case before making an investment in technology. As resources are often constrained, it is impossible to execute all proofs of concept at one time. Help your teams make informed choices by testing aspects of digitalization in a small group or by implementing solutions that provide the greatest return on investment.
Hibbett Sports’ Blahnik followed this model when storyboarding the feedback tab for its e-Commerce site. He oversaw a team that placed the tab in multiple positions and tested for an optimal location through invitation-only crowdsourcing and focus groups. The team was able to rapidly determine the best specifications for the feature to maximize customer satisfaction, while accelerating additional design aspects of the prototype site in the process.
Technology has the power to drive business goals with the right IT leader behind the helm, but no matter how advanced or tech-savvy a retailer may be, digital transformation isn’t a one-and-done process. Competing in today’s retail landscape requires a game changer: a forward-looking CIO who is constantly seeking new corporate automation solutions and digitalization techniques that can extend across the company’s full footprint.
As CIO, Chris Conry heads Fuze’s global IT and information security functions, leveraging more than two decades of experience in IT and operational leadership, with a primary focus in growth-oriented, high-tech businesses. Conry is a purveyor of a cloud-first IT strategy and has a strong track record of delivering agile, business-enabling solutions for private and public enterprises.