The Big Retail Challenge for 2015: An Interview with IDC’s Leslie Hand

Retailers had to be more agile than ever in adapting to change in 2014. Omni-channel—mobile—big data—social networks, there was no end of things for retailers to worry about and plan for. Will 2015 be any different? To find out, Supply Chain Nation asked Leslie Hand, Vice President of IDC’s Retail Insights, for her predictions for retail in 2015.

SCN:  What is the single biggest factor or trend you feel will impact retailers in 2015?

Hand:  I could point to so many things, but if I were to roll it up into the one thing that retailers are trying hardest to respond to in 2015, I would have to say fulfilling customer expectations.  I know that sounds obvious, but think about, in particular, the in-store experience and just how critical this touchpoint is given how the path the customer takes to purchase still involves the store in greater than 90% of purchases. Retailers must improve execution. It’s a net new opportunity to engage the customer because the customer is present and potentially already traveling through the aisles with digital devices in hand. The opportunity to offer assistance, engage, leverage data at an associate’s fingertips, and be responsive to both assist and fulfill the customer’s needs in whatever way is effective.

Meeting ever greater customer expectations is the net new opportunity for all retailers. If one retailer offers the ability to order online and pick up in-store, or to look at products with the sales associate, then order it and have it delivered to their home or to the store, or to have it altered or customized in any way and then delivered, then that is what their competitors will need to do as well. So it is all about fulfilling customer expectations, but given what I just said, this means retailers need to be vigilant about monitoring and responding to a set of customer expectations that may change on virtually a daily basis.

SCN:  What should retailers do to get ready for, and leverage or minimize, the impact?

Hand:  Ideally, what the consumer sees, and what the consumer experiences from a retailer, is a set of products and services made available that aligns with consumer demand, sells through at full margin, and enables business growth regardless of selling channel. But we all know no one really does this, or that at least they don’t get anywhere close without a lot of preparation. The prep these days requires first understanding customer demand, and then orchestrating product placement and retail processes in such a way as to maximize satisfying the customer. Where many retailers continue to fail is on the fulfillment of expectations piece, by not having inventory in stock when products are advertised or when the customer was informed it existed; or even in the ability to look inventory up across the enterprise and then execute fulfill to anyway when a customer is looking for something specific.

So what retailers need to do is provide omni-channel inventory visibility and omni-channel customer management to improve execution and enable anybody in the enterprise, whether that is the call center, a physical store, or any other touchpoint, to have inventory visibility and the capability to distribute available products to the customer at will. Behind that, importantly, is the science that enables the retailer to orchestrate that order fulfillment in a cost-effective way.

Related to that is the personalization of interactions, because whether it’s an interaction between an associate and a consumer or an interaction that is an email or a pop-up message on a mobile device, all of those interactions are opportunities to get closer and closer to fulfilling the needs of the customer. Those are the priorities. It’s really all about, in my mind, enabling better execution with better information. That’s the bottom line.


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