There are five steps retailers need to take to make digital transformation possible and they are all about people.


In a recent survey, we asked 75 retailers about their top three barriers to digital transformation. Lack of staff adoption of new approaches and technology came top, followed by lack of internal skills.

When asked how to tackle these barriers, a difference of opinion emerged: an overwhelming 88% of c-suite respondents favoured recruiting externally or outsourcing, whereas 46% of managers wanted to upskill existing teams.

So who is right? The answer is both – provided you take the following five steps:

1. Make it everyone’s goal

Asked who leads digital transformation within their business, 27% said IT and 10% didn’t know. There is a misconception digital transformation is all about fixing legacy systems, meaning it is a job for IT. It is not.

It would be better to envisage the opportunities digital transformation offers across all functions – and create an open culture where agile teams are energised to realise them. The result? People want to make transformation happen, rather than just feeling they should.

2. Harness the power of the people you already have

There are people you employ with a real passion for your business, but who lack digital skills. While passion can’t be taught, new skills can and they are probably already using some of those skills outside work, such as on social media.

Nurture and retrain the passionate ones. Use them to accelerate transformation by getting them to create a better onboarding process for new digital hires, fusing their seasoned business experience with innovative ideas from incoming talent to make things happen.

3. Recruit, but create the right environment for success

Transplanting a creative, digital-savvy person into a more traditional business needs to be done carefully. To avoid mutual frustration, ensure their new role is motivating and keep it that way – always identifying the next exciting new challenge.

Make sure they are accountable for leaving a skills legacy with your core talent, so if they do want to go to pastures new your existing team has been upskilled en route.

4. Chose your supplier partners carefully

Third parties can enable you to access hard-to-get skills while capitalising on their years of experience and investment. To reap the full benefits, select with care, making sure they are willing to agree joint objectives.

Encourage them to invest alongside you so they have a stake in mutual success. Importantly, to make change sustainable, ensure their objectives include upskilling your team. Don’t take on partners unwilling to do this.

5. Remember – the customer is always right

Customer experience is arguably what makes shoppers choose you. About 40% of managers say their company should be investing here – but this plunges to just 9% among the c-suite.

Develop new approaches with your front-line teams, who better understand the realities of what shoppers want and need and how this works in the real world. Be prepared to invest in allowing your front-line teams to spend time working on these all-important initiatives.

Do these five things and you will be well placed to accelerate your digital advance – powered by your people.


Download Brave new world: leading through digital transformation, a Retail Week report produced in association with PwC.



Neil McTiffin is a PwC retail and consumer partner