Reinvent or Die: Retailers Assess Obstacles to Innovation at SAP's Retail Forum

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Customer Strategy
Customer Experience
Keeping up with customer expectations and the speed of change are timeless challenges that retailers face but the answers or solutions to these challenges are more varied than ever, said Pat Bakey, general manager of global retail at SAP, at the company's Retail Forum in New York City this week.

Keeping up with customer expectations and the speed of change are timeless challenges that retailers face but the answers or solutions to these challenges are more varied than ever, said Pat Bakey, general manager of global retail at SAP, at the company's Retail Forum in New York City this week.At the Waldorf Astoria hotel, which is undergoing its own changes under a new owner, Bakey noted that companies like Amazon and Alibaba both started as nondescript companies but have become front-runners in meeting these challenges.

Amazon and Alibaba "own the customer experience through their ability to operate with speed and scale," Bakey commented. Even though few companies will reach the same level of success as Amazon and Alibaba, the pressure is on for retailers to better serve their customers.

Brooks Brothers Chief Information Officer Sahal Laher admitted during a breakout session that the 197-year-old retailer needs to catch up to changes in customer behavior and the retail landscape. As e-commerce sites and fast-fashion retailers (companies that quickly churn out a wide variety of clothing styles) gobble up market share, traditional retailers like Brooks Brothers are at risk of being seen as old-fashioned.

"We have to reinvent who we are and how we go to market," Laher said. The company's strategy includes streamlining its supply chain operations to optimize its inventory and pricing levels as well as consolidating data from its wholesale, retail, and manufacturing operations. Laher was also one of many executives who dropped the "O" word--i.e., commented on the importance of an omnichannel strategy.

The company is betting on SAP's Customer Activity Repository and Fashion Management platforms to consolidate its data and gain insights that will enable it to engage valued customers across channels and geographies. "If you're our best customer in Tokyo and you come to Madison Avenue," Laher commented, "we need to know who you are."

Other retailers are taking a wait and see approach to leveraging their customer data. David Rumberg, project manager and partner at sporting goods retailer Sports Basement, admits that the company doesn't yet know how to best engage its customers.

The company is struggling, Rumberg explained, to develop a personalization strategy that will suit both privacy-minded consumers and those who welcome highly targeted messages. "We have a lot of information flowing in about our customers, but we're holding back from using it," Rumberg said. "We're still trying to find a way to be relevant to all our customers and we're keeping our ear to the ground until something emerges."

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