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An Interview with Randy Davidson
Question: What are the top three fundamental issues on the minds of retailers today?
Randy Davidson, Tectura: That’s actually a pretty broad question because a lot of the issues are different based on the department within the organization. Some of the issues for store operations may be different than they might be for the CFO or for the merchandising group. Some of the key ones, such as the CFO wanting to increase top-line revenues as well as reducing operational costs, are quite common. Store operations wants to provide sales associates with better tools. PCI compliance is a key issue right now, as well as advanced marketing and engaging customers through mobile devices.
Question: What do you view as some of the biggest challenges retailers faced concerning mobility?
RD: There are actually two sides to that question. The first is engaging the customer through mobility and, obviously, it seems that everybody is carrying a smartphone today or a mobile device so that you can interact with the customer through Facebook and Twitter or they get access to web sites. But one of the challenges is that as soon as the customer walks through the store door, retailers seem to forget that they have those devices. And finding ways to engage the customer with their smartphone in the store is a significant challenge.
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?
RD: One area with social networking, particularly with Facebook, is the fact that that’s really the largest retail store that exists, because of the volume of people that you can reach. It really provides a good platform as far as brand awareness and being able to engage an individual in that capacity. One example—it’s kind of a negative, but if you look atis what happened with Netflix’s new pricing and Bank of America’s with its debit card fees, and the impact that social media had on making changes to what they were planning to dodoing. Although that’s from a negative side, it just shows the power that social media can have; really influencing what customers’ interaction is are with various companies and organizations.
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?
RD: The customer is really the central point of a retail organization. Being customer centric really means understanding who your customers are, and then providing them with mechanisms to engage in ways that best suit them. So understanding the customer really takes into account not just the products that they want to purchase, but what do they go through as far as their buying habits. Are they researching products on the website, but then going into the store to make the purchase? Or do they really want to engage through the website, see inventory, and go into the store and pick things up, and purchase on the web… engaging with them through the different channels.
Question: What effects will the cloud have on retailers and what should they be doing today to ensure success in the cloud?
RD: The most significant issue with the cloud for many retailers today is they don’t have the infrastructure in place to really support the cloud. The one thing that they need to do upfront is really make sure that the infrastructure they have in place is there, so they can really take advantage of everything that the cloud offers.
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?
RD: This is one of the issues we hear from customers based on using older technology. It’s the fact that they can’t get one single version of the truth because they’re pulling information from different systems. One mechanism is really being able to consolidate data in a system, or in a way that individuals in a business are really looking at the same thing. Particularly looking at tools like business intelligence is a way of being able to pull information together, so that everybody can look at the same information. And then another is really dealing with customer centricity, and being able to, again, combine information from what those different systems might be, whether it’s from one POS system and a different system for the web, or if you’re doing catalog marketing and being able to bring that information, again, into some type of a central repository, so that everybody’s looking at the same information.
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?
RD: The message we hear is from retailers is that they really want to get some type of end-to-end system in place so that they’re reducing the dependency on rekeying information. Information is entered from whatever point, whether it’s POS or whether it’s through purchase orders from merchandising, that everything is getting through, ideally, a single system. Again, everybody’s looking at the same information and getting one version of the truth.
Question: Where should retailers increase usage of technology when IT budgets are shrinking?
RD: Giving people within the organization better tools so that they can access data more easily, whether through being able to publish reports through something like SharePoint, where I can get information from an Internet as opposed to having to wait for somebody to print reports. Basically tools that would empower associates, whether they’re in stores or whether out of a corporate office, they’ll be better enabled to do their jobs.
One comment, though, that I do have about the last question, just from some of the research that I’ve been doing in trying to understand where people are in the marketplace, there’ve been some studies out there based on the customers’ perspective, as opposed to retailers engaging the customers. What I’ve found is the retailers’ priorities aren’t always in line with what the customers’ expectations are. In many cases, the retailers are looking at technology as a way to solve improveing customer service, where, in a number of cases, the customers are looking at the fact that sales associates don’t have the level of knowledge that they’re looking for as far as product information, or slow service at checkout, cashiers being distracted, doing other things as opposed to focusing on the customer that’s in front of them. And those are actually things that you don’t need technology to resolve. It’s kind of getting back to basic retailing.