In the game of c-suite buzzword bingo, ‘digital transformation’ and ‘disruption’ are the latest hot terms, in the way ‘omnichannel’ previously was.

These type of phrases are thrown around a lot and this sort of rhetoric doesn’t help retailers make good decisions.

Retailers need to resist the urge for high drama, high impact, short-term fixes in order to break the back of long-term issues.

The language should instead help us recognise the scale of change needed. It’s digital transformation because it needs to address the core essence of what you do and how you do it.

So let us take the buzzwords out. How do you make effective lasting change?

By finding out what your customers really care about.

Digital change is too often planned around keeping up with competition, placing emphasis on building something someone else already does better than you.

I see a horrific trend of postponing and devaluing research in favour of a fast launch. Retailers need to know just how badly they are servicing and/or failing customers.

Critically, they have to speak to customers about their experiences to spot problems and opportunities.

When you’re facing a fast-paced technology environment, retailers should be thinking about three things. Firstly, can we access and use our own data in real time? Secondly, can we scale capacity quickly if we need to? And finally, can we adapt quickly if we need to?

If I’ve learnt anything in my time as digital practitioner, the most disruptive element of every digital start-up is that they can answer yes to all of the above. Most incumbent organisations can’t.

Accept risk

Having no experience with digital transformation is a valid reason to proceed with caution. But not a valid reason for endless planning and organisational inertia.

You can’t mitigate every issue before you start. In the digital context, the more urgent the need, the more critical it is to get moving in small incremental steps.

Aiming for a no-mistakes scenario will always fail. Having some room to fail and learn however, rests solely on the bravery and strength of vision within business leadership.

Many problems faced during transformations have their root cause in business functions that shouldn’t be getting in the way, for example finance and procurement, trying to manage purchasing and budgeting decisions using paper-based artefacts and software from 1999.

Ultimately, you can’t change everything at once, but knowing that everything will change and giving your organisation support needed across key functions will be invaluable.

Focus on people

There is a risk that by bringing in new thinking and practices, the business you currently have starts to recoil under the pressure of the new world.

Aim to give existing (and highly knowledgeable) teams the ability to participate in something they have wanted for a long time. It’s amazing how much people achieve when they feel empowered and are encouraged to act.

It’s not rocket science. Its social science centred around technology. Building new tools, launching better services, becoming future-facing, these are behavioural changes. The technology is fuel, you build the engine.

  •  Lola Oyelayo is the director of strategy and user experience at Head