In all the retail digital transformations I’ve been involved in over the past two decades, a simple truth has emerged.
The successful ones brace themselves for a breakneck pace of change – to move at digital speed. And they see transformation not as a programme but as a continuously accelerating commitment to stay ahead of the customer.
The transformation programmes that failed did not do so because the risks taken were too big, nor because they invested too fast. They did so because they moved too slowly. Complex steering committees, aligning matrixes between the new business and the legacy business, nudging forward the culture – these all left them standing.
You are almost certainly not moving fast or far enough. To test that, I offer you nine reasons why you are not (yet) a digital retailer.
You have a head of digital
Digital is not a channel, nor a project, nor a capability. It is where your customers already live. Who is Amazon’s head of digital, or Apple’s? It’s Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook. The chief executive should take charge.
You’re talking customer segments
You do so because you lack the data and insight to understand individual customers or to offer them a unique experience. Segments are OK for marketing. True digital businesses integrate into each customer’s life.
You have an ‘agile team’
Agile teams get frustrated when their innovations need to be scaled up through operational functions. The principles of agile – distributed governance, rapid prototyping and fast feedback – are relevant everywhere.
You’re launching a ‘store of the future’
Digital requires many touchpoints – ship from store, pick-ups, showroom, brand experience, service, pop-ups, et cetera. Most retailers try to cram all these ideas into one repurposed, compromised space. The key is to intercept each customer journey with the relevant offer.
You’re measuring online customer behaviour
Good, but if you’re not capturing the same experience and engagement data in stores, you’re missing the whole customer view. You should monitor value to the brand irrespective of which channel the customer chooses.
Your org chart has added new roles and titles
You’ve renamed your marketing chief as “customer director” and added a role or two such as chief data officer. But structurally the organisation has not changed. To be fully digital, you need to organise around the new functions of customer experience design and ecosystem partnership development. Meanwhile, AI is eliminating whole swathes of the organisation.
You are hiring more retailers
The scarce skills needed to be competitive in the future do not include retail experience. You already have plenty of that. You need data scientists, technologists, machine learning specialists and above all people who bring challenge and creativity. Hiring more retailers is only going to reduce your chance of survival.
You have few millennials and Gen Zs in positions of influence
Globally, millennials outnumbered baby boomers more than a quarter of a century ago, and yet who is making your strategic decisions? Generation Z is the first truly digitally native generation: its oldest members are just turning 21. If you’re struggling to hire them, perhaps the problem is…
You can’t articulate your purpose
Societal purpose is a core motive for millennials and Gen Z selecting a brand or an employer. But this goes beyond ethical compliance, it means finding a unique, genuine and meaningful role in the world.