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An Interview with David Weiner
Question: What are the top three fundamental issues on the minds of retailers today?
Dave Weiner, Cole Systems: Retailers, especially here in North America, are concerned with the economy, the job market, and consumer spending, all of which are interconnected in making sure that consumers are continuing to buy. While the numbers are starting to improve, they’re still very far off. Next, how are retailers going to reach new customers and new selling opportunities, through m-commerce, social media, web integration, and guided selling? How are they going to use technology and all the new means of communications to bring new customers to consider their products and into their stores? And finally, how to increase customer loyalty and brand recognition, making sure that your existing customers continue to be loyal and increase their spending.
Question: What do you view as some of the biggest challenges retailers face concerning mobility?
DW: It’s how to do mobility right. While it may be inexpensive to deploy mobile solutions, how do you deploy those solutions with the right data, at the right time, in the right place? With outdated back-end systems and outdated data sources, can you implement mobile technology or guided efficiently. So first, it’s looking at those technologies and knowing how to implement them within your enterprise. Many retailers that we talk to understand that social media, especially mobile social media, is important to their future growth, however they don’t yet know how to monetize it. Anybody can set up a Twitter account or a Facebook, but how do I make these assets that can drive sales? In addition, when retailers are viewing mobility, they’re seeing a wealth of sites where consumers go to buy products at a deep discount. What does that do to their brand?, How do you use mobility and the web to create loyalty without giveaways in an age where everything on the web seems like it’s a markdown?
Question: How do you see the social network sites influencing the retailers and what can a retailer do to ensure their success and participation in that?
DW: Active and smart participation in social media and social networking can grow a retailer’s business. Consumers today rely far more on candid reviews by their peers than they do a salesperson or an opinion in a magazine. Keeping up with social media and organic product/company reviews does increase sales. Retailers should have a targeted social media marketing strategy to ensure that they’re pulling in and rewarding the right customers for giving positive feedback. Doing this, peer networking and social media can work to their advantage.
Question: What does it mean to be a customer centric retailer? Should retailers strive to be “customer centric” and, if so, what are some things they should be doing?
DW: Retailers should strive to be customer centric. Customer centricity improves the buying experience and creates loyalty, often without giveaways. It’s putting the customer first, and improving their buying experience. Retailers need to be able to analyze their customer base, to understand who their customers are and how to appeal to them, how to keep them loyal, and how to keep them coming back. It all starts with knowing your customer across the many channels where they may communicate with or buy from you.
Question: What effects will the cloud have on retailers and what should they be doing today to ensure success in the cloud?
DW: Cloud technology enables secure deployment of new technologies at a speed that we’ve never seen before, and at a price that we’ve never seen before. Cloud enables retailers to quickly deploy new technologies for a very manageable monthly fee. Retailers should be looking into building a cloud roadmap and knowing how cloud can help embrace new technologies at a low cost of entry. It’s the model that’s going to allow many retailers to take on new projects in short term.
Question: IT has dramatically changed over the years, but retailers are often still using older technology. How can retailers get the data they need to grow and manage their business with this older technology?
DW: We preach a crawl-walk-run approach to new technology acquisition. We’re working with many retailers right now that haven’t updated their systems in 10, 20, or even 30 years. We work with them to show them that it’s an evolution; there are systems now that are modular-based, and retailers can use new technology to start to replace some of their legacy technology over time, without a heavy investment. Retailers shouldn’t look at this as one day they’re going to flip a switch and all of their technology is going to be new. They should look at it as starting the evolution, where slowly, over time, in a secure and stable manner they can move to new technology that will enable them to communicate and compete in new challenges and new markets.
Question: What should retailers do to become more efficient and balanced while increasing their dependence on technology? How can they manage the cost of IT when everyone wants to increase investment in IT? Where will they need to support their dependence on IT?
DW: Retailers shouldn’t invest in new technology or newer technical endeavors simply because the technology is more attractive than what they have currently. Retailers should only invest in a new project, be it technology or otherwise, when there’s a true return. Specifically in technology, when technology has a return, it really goes away from an IT decision and becomes a business decision. The days of IT being around to facilitate email and networking is going away with cloud technology. Today IT can facilitate new channels of commerce, facilitate new ways of doing business that have a positive return. And because these projects do have a return, IT must become a profit center over a cost center. IT must move to a strategic position within your company.
Question: Where should retailers increase usage of technology when IT budgets are shrinking?
DW: We’ve been encouraging all our customers to increase budget in the area of mobility. Mobility is changing the shopping environment in the store, such that mobile phones and tablets are part of the buying experience. This includes guided selling enabling consumers to use their mobile phone to walk them through the store, to lead them to user reviews, and to products that may not be available in-store. Then, they can order the size that they need, which may not be on the shelf, or they can check another store’s inventory. Consumers want to be able to quickly read opinions online, while in the store. This allows a retailer to really expand the footprint of their store, without adding additional square footage. We’ve found that these types of projects have fast and quantifiable ROI.