The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Does Store Operations Have A Seat At The Digital Transformation Table?

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Last week I joined Steve at Manhattan Associates’ user conference. It was my third time in Las Vegas in about 5 weeks, and probably my fifth conference in a row where the store was front and center in the discussion. That included a dinner during the conference where a group of executives talked about the challenges facing the store.

The conversation started much the same as it does everywhere in retail these days. How many people at the table are part of an internal effort addressing digital transformation in some way? Yep, check, almost the whole table.

How many people at the table have extended that strategy or discussion to stores? That question almost invariably results in a completely different answer: nope. Not yet. For a lot of retailers, it is such an open question they will readily admit they don’t know where to start.

Even worse: how many at the table were from store operations? Three. And they were all from the same company. As heads swiveled back and forth to take in just how little store operations was represented at a dinner that was supposed to focus on stores, there followed rueful shakes of heads and dismayed mutterings. One attendee said, “We seemed to have this attitude internally about doing things to stores, rather than with them. “

So, obviously, there are a lot of problems with this state of affairs. But it is certainly not surprising. Stores do not move at the same speed as the rest of the business. Cloud isn’t really going to change this. Yes, it can make deployment faster. It can create a level of flexibility that theoretically makes it easier and faster to train store employees. If something is designed with a Facebook-level of intuitive design, then how many hours does it really take to train someone to use it (that may be a loaded question – I certainly don’t use Facebook to its fullest)?

But the reality is that User Experience design and the process of rolling out software (and hardware) to stores is just not that smooth, and it may never be. And that means stores will always be slower than the rest of the enterprise. And this is a problem.

But instead of helping stores catch up, instead of pacing the business at the pace of stores (and I’m not sure that either one is honestly the right option), we are apparently in a world where stores are just getting passed by. Digital transformation is leaving stores in the dust. And stores are responding by trying to skip the hard work of defining what they want the customer experience to be and moving straight on to implementing technology – apparently for technology’s sake, rather than in support of a strategic customer experience.

When retailers get to this point, here’s what happens next: stores lose their strategic imperative. What are stores for? Most people will quickly answer “to sell stuff “. And that was true, when that was the only place where you could buy stuff. But now I can get cases of Diet Coke delivered to my front porch for practically free. I don’t need a store to buy stuff. And apparently a lot of Millennials have decided the same thing.

But if you take away an objective of “selling stuff ” (and by the way, what exactly does that have to do with enabling a customer experience?), what do you have left as the purpose of stores? Too many retailers have no good answer to that question. And when you don’t have a good answer, then everything else you do – all the tactics, all the technology – it’s just scattershot at an ill-defined problem.

Worse yet, I just don’t know how retailers are ever going to resolve this issue, if digital transformation leaves stores in the dust. It’s no wonder retailers don’t know where to start in stores when they’ve been left in so much dust they can no longer see the starting line.

We at RSR have taken a crack at helping retailers get back to the basics of answering the question “what are stores for? “. It’s not an easy question to answer, though the best part is that every retailer has a unique answer to that question – it’s core to a retailer’s differentiation. We invite you to discover what we learned, and our advice on how to actually get started in stores. And if it makes you wonder how your stores fare in comparison, take the survey and get your personalized results.

And let us know what you think. Are stores even able to move fast enough to keep up with the speed of today’s retail customer?


Newsletter Articles May 16, 2017
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