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The Game Changing Role of IT in Retail

August 09, 2018 by Amanda Maksymiw

From the integration of online and in-store experiences to the rise of personalization, the retail landscape has changed tremendously as a result of digital transformation. The traditional concept of a retail employee is being replaced with a digitally-savvy workforce, powered by innovative tools to maximize both employee and customer experiences. Driving success among retail leaders are game changing CIOs, moving their IT departments from cost centers to critical contributors to brand growth. They understand that digital transformation is a continuum, not an event with a finite end. In an industry where consumer expectations change rapidly, digital transformation needs to be met with a continuous effort to modernize work streams.

But how exactly are these CIOs spurring innovation at the cross section of IT and retail? Here are a few strategies that have led to success so far:

Marrying Online & Brick-and-Mortar Experiences

Top CIOs in retail prioritize several cornerstones: simplicity and efficiency, business agility and optimizing the customer experience. In an era where consumers value convenience, integrating digital tactics into the store itself can be a key differentiator. For example, fashion retailer BCBGMaxAzria, recently committed to uniting e-Commerce and in-store to create the “experience store.” By rolling out tablets to all of the company’s stores, customer service agents and in-store style consultants could now help customers with online orders, with access to the brand’s full assortment from a virtual endless aisle. This was followed by visually displaying the entire inventory, so employees could easily offer additional merchandise based on the customer’s personal preferences.

Digitalization can only succeed if CIOs integrate it from online to in-store. Investing in new in-store tech to avoid disjointed experiences is critical to building the engaging touchpoints that consumers increasingly expect while shopping in-store.

Ensuring Seamless Collaboration

In today’s digital-first environment, regardless of industry, speed is essential. The foundation of real-time agility is the right communications platform, aligning the entire business to a single strategy. Hibbett Sports, for example, emphasizes phone calls as its primary communications channel. The company encourages employees to make the call, solve the problem and move on. Leveraging a “bring your own device” policy, HS employees are further empowered to use the tools which meet their unique needs and preferences.

Internal communication is key to removing inefficiencies – CIOs must design and apply solutions that help teams move faster. Retail moves at a lightning pace, and as employee communications trends evolve, CIOs need to be ready to adopt more complex models of intra and inter store communication. This enables stores to rapidly share best practices that could drive higher sales. Better communication enables quicker implementation, giving stores the opportunity to easily pivot and maximize sales across their entire footprint.

Being Strategic in Investment

For retailers, tech innovation must be strategic, well-executed, and tied to business goals. Emerging technologies, from predictive analytics to automation, present massive opportunity for retailers. They must, however, not be quick on the draw for investment and adoption.  Game changing CIOs recommend a “test and learn” approach to validate the business case. Help your teams make informed choices by testing aspects of digitalization in a small group. Hibbett Sports followed this model when storyboarding the feedback tab for its e-Commerce site. By placing the tab in multiple positions and testing for an optimal location through invitation-only crowdsourcing and focus groups, the team could rapidly determine the best specifications for the feature.

Technology has a very critical role in driving long term business goals. But, this type of success requires the understanding that digital transformation isn’t a checklist to be marked off. It is a learning curve. With a forward-looking CIO at the helm, retailers are well-placed to lead organizations to unmatched growth.

Amanda Maksymiw
Amanda Maksymiw

Amanda is responsible for setting and managing the Fuze content marketing strategy including creating, producing and publishing engaging content. Throughout her career, she's worked with fast-growing tech companies and VCs on developing content marketing, influencer marketing and social media strategies. Amanda received her BBA in Marketing from the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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