- WNR Thought Leaders
- Sandeep Walia, Ignify
- Pete Palazzolo, RF Smart
- Michael Griffiths, Microsoft
- Randy Davidson, Tectura
- David Weiner, Cole Systems
- Jeff Marker, Junction Solutions
- John Orr, Dayforce
- Lindsay Carpen, Junction Solutions
- Will Roche
- Amanda Raines, Cole Systems
- Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail
- News and Podcasts
- Contact Us
An Interview with Steve Cohen
Question: What are the top three fundamental issues on the minds of retailers today?
Steve Cohen, Cole Systems: First and foremost, retailers are concerned that the condition of the economy is going to make it impossible for customers to spend like they used to in stores. They’re worried that they’re not going to get have the same holiday business as in the past and this season is when most retailers make their year.
Another big issue is seeing how profitable each channel is. Retailers today are delving into e-commerce, traditional brick and mortar and wholesale channels. Being able to see across these channels where they’re doing the best is paramount to their success.
Finally, keeping up with the trends in technology is a huge challenge. Every month of the year there’s a hot new technology to consider. I heard of a new technology for consumers to pay where they don’t even need to take out cash or a piece of plastic, the system just recognizes who you are and you can pay from that. It’s also tying together social media, marketing events, and getting traction with their customer base.
Question: What do you view as some of the biggest challenges retailers face concerning mobility?
SC: Let’s look at mobility from two different standpoints. First, mobility from the customer standpoint where they have an iPhone, an Android-based phone, a BlackBerry, or something where they can do research no matter where they are. They can be in a store looking at an item and find out more information about that item, or find a better price for it somewhere else and buy it there. Retailers now need to set themselves apart in a way that customers aren’t just being price sensitive.
From the retailer side, the questions are “how do we sell to people in a store without making them wait in a line? How does the right back-end system, the right infrastructure, support this? How do we support shopping by a tablet or handle QR codes?”
Finally, the whole notion of mobility makes a customer less loyal than they used to be. People in New York, for example, used to go shopping at Paragon Sports, which is a popular sporting goods store in New York. Now they’re going to Paragon Sports to find the right item, but they’re not necessarily going to buy it there unless there’s a reason to entice them to.
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?
SC: Social networking sites give retailers the ability to reach out and communicate with people today in a way that they hadn’t been able to in the past. In the past, businesses used to try to figure out how they were doing by looking to focus groups, paying people to participate in surveys, and paying people to give them their feedback. And now that feedback is free and even sometimes unasked for or undesired. So businesses are getting more data about how they’re doing from these social networking sites. It’s almost like these sites are free focus groups.
The challenge is that people are usually inclined only to complain when they’re giving feedback on these social media sites. On your Facebook fan page or your Twitter feed, someone’s really only going to contribute if they have something to complain about. Not taking everything to heart is important. Being able to sift through the feedback to figure out what’s meaningful and how they can use that to better run their business and promote their business through social media is important.
The most important thing is to take what’s out there and try to get in front of what’s going on. You can look at the Apples of the world, and even Netflix to some degree, that when they make mistakes and people call them out on it, they’re reacting to it; They take the feedback, realize they can do better and from there make a change to make their customers happy with them again.
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?
SC: There’s not a simple answer for this. In general, I believe that businesses should be customer centric. Depending on the business, though, the retailer should choose to be customer centric or not. If there’s a product that’s unique that drives their business, then maybe they don’t need to be customer centric. They can just promote their product well enough and people will buy it because it’s the best thing out there. If you’re competing against many other businesses in a very saturated market, then absolutely, you need to be customer centric and drive people to your business. The ideal of the customer centric retailer is to build value beyond the products that are for sale.
Question: What effects will the cloud have on retailers and what should they be doing today to ensure success in the cloud?
SC: The cloud will give retailers the ability to bring everything offsite. It will give retailers the ability to get data in one central place, without making that central place a cost center, for them. They won’t have the brick and mortar building of the past that they need to support and maintain. They won’t have to have technicians on staff to support the servers, so over time, it will allow retailers to shift a lot of in-house costs to items that they just pay for on a monthly basis. Also, the cloud will give them better access to data.
In order to ensure the success of the cloud, retailers really need to look at what they are and what they’re going to do with it and plan accordingly. So if a retailer wants to move all their systems to the cloud, they should plan for it and make a strategy, a roadmap, to plan for that and to plan for data being stored in that fashion.
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?
SC: If I were talking with a retailer today to find out how they can use their older technology, the first thing I would do is ask them what are they actually trying to capture, what data do they need in order to manage their business. If it’s something they have access to now, then it might be as simple as installing a high-speed Internet connection at all their sites to get data back faster. Or if it’s not available, they need to start planning the roadmap to the next step in new technology.
The first place that retailers need to start is to figure out what they need, what data they need in order to get the information that they want. It’s challenging to determine the return on investment with the data, but if you can figure out that better data can increase turns of inventory then you can look for data to help increase turns and build a business case around that. Those are the things that people should be looking for, to make a business case to stop using old technology and move on to newer technology.
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?
SC: We know that IT projects are not the only projects that retailers are taking on. Retailers are opening new stores, trying to expand, trying to improve and get feedback on their marketing. From an IT perspective, the best way for retailers to be as efficient as possible is to bring technology in house, where they can support it and grow it as well. So to bring in the right platform and get rid of paying people outside their business, at a higher rate than it would cost them to have a full-time employee that can maintain the environment, maintain the systems, but also provide them with a place where they can leverage the data from the current business in order to find out if the other projects makes sense. So, for example, if we’ve been involved in ten different markets this year, we can determine which ones made money and which ones didn’t?
The highest costs in IT are usually around the initial implementation of the project. So it’s smarter to bring their own team in, so that the project can get done on time and on budget.
Question: Where should retailers increase usage of technology when IT budgets are shrinking?
SC: If a retailer is up to date and can really look at their data, analyze their data, get information about it and know how they’re doing, then they should invest in mobility. If they have the infrastructure in their stores to support it, then someone should be investing in a mobile POS, investing in social media, and capturing the data from there. But if the customer is behind the times, on older technology, they should really be planning their road map and figuring out what they want to do in order to get to the next steps and putting in that foundation, not trying to tap the newest technology now, to old technology that doesn’t really support it but instead invest in that infrastructure, and start at the bottom and build your way up.