Ranking the Retail CIOs Top Priorities for 2015

Experts evaluate the four primary initiatives and strategies retail CIOs have on this year's agenda.
Customer Experience

Priorities often vary from company to company, as each individual organization has its own goals in mind. But, within the retail sphere, businesses can't deny that technology now dominates the majority of their objectives. Thus, as retail CIOs begin to enact their primary initiatives for 2015, executives appear to be leaning toward an integrated approach that harmonizes all channel strategies into one concerted effort.

Over the years, retail has begun to divide into three main concentrations: in-store, online, and mobile. But recent innovations reveal that these strategies can no longer exist within silos, for each channel flows into one another. Online and mobile tactics trickle into the brick-and-mortar space, and vice versa, making it increasingly difficult for CIOs to assess the importance of any one initiative, for each benefits the bottom line. Collaboration, as it turns out, impacts every facet of retail operations. Security also remains crucial across all touchpoints, for recent data breaches have triggered an unavoidable wave of apprehension that continues to impede customer trust and loyalty throughout the industry.

Here, thought leaders highlight the top four initiatives in which retail CIOs plan to invest and how these focal points will drive improvement and engagement throughout 2015:

1. Support Data Safety Measures

Plagued by numerous high profile data breaches in the recent past, retail CIOs now recognize that safety and security are paramount. As George Lawrie, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, emphasizes, customer data represents the brand's relationship with its customers, so this information cannot leak without threatening trust and loyalty. Thus, according to one recent report published by the National Retail Federation and Forrester Research-The Retail CIO Agenda 2015: Secure and Innovate-97 percent of all IT executives surveyed consider managing customer data security to be one of their top five priorities for the year.

However, protective measures are becoming increasingly difficult to implement, as emerging technologies and mobile usage expose data regularly. Seventy-eight percent of those polled claim that their brands lack an effective IT governance process at the corporate level. Therefore, most are worried that their line-of-business colleagues may become impatient and invest in risky technologies prematurely, Lawrie adds. Personalization requires vast amounts of sensitive data. Thus, while it might be innovative to develop an app that shows users the ideal wine for their particular cheese, for instance, such conveniences expose data to the dangers of hackers. Retail CIOs must now dedicate time and resources to establishing the necessary infrastructure to keep information safe, while also enabling experimentation.

2. Enhance Mobile Competencies

Because most consumers have constant access to product and price information, retailers recognize the need to embrace mobile technologies across all touchpoints along the customer journey. Consequently, retail CIOs have begun to invest in their brands' mobile presence in an effort to remain visible no matter the consumer's path to purchase.

Koren Stucki, director, solutions marketing at Verint, notes that many CIOs plan to explore the benefits of iBeacons within the year, as these tools help retailers to determine consumers' approximate location or context so they may send alerts about nearby sales in order to drive in-store visits and conversions. Retailers also expect to expand their use of mobile feedback requests, as customers are more likely to respond to surveys immediately after completing their transactions. Real-time data collection via mobile or SMS survey will ultimately help companies obtain higher response rates so they may then apply this knowledge to future strategic developments and experiential initiatives.

3. Increase In-Store Engagement

Though today's average consumer now uses numerous channels prior to completing one purchase, many take to their mobile devices while in-store in an effort to research product details and deals. This trend, however, frequently leads to showrooming, for shoppers leave with the intention of buying the given item online or from the competition. Therefore, retail CIOs are eager to explore in-store technologies that may reignite brick-and-mortar engagement. Cathy Hotka, principal at Cathy Hotka & Associates, emphasizes the need to create an immersive experience in-store and leverage brick-and-mortar's advantages over online commerce.

From dressing rooms that ask consumers for their email addresses, to mirrors that allow shoppers to see what their outfits look like at all angles, big name retailers are on the cusp of the in-store revolution. But, just as retailers must embrace mobile usage with regard to consumers, CIOs must also empower staff to use these tools to the fullest extent. Hotka notes that, while employees may have tablets at their disposal, they lack clear instructions and understanding of how to put these devices to good use. Known as "organ rejection," associates toss these devices in drawers, only to resort to older methods for engagement. CIOs must comprehend precisely what type of device each department needs, as size and format typically vary between use cases, and explain how these tools can enhance both productivity and perception. Mobile device checkouts, in particular, will see rapid adoption, for consumers are more likely to complete their purchases when presented with an easy process, thereby boosting sales and satisfaction.

4. Foster Omnichannel Efficiency

Consumers don't think nor care about channels, says David Stover, global head of B2C omni-commerce, solution management at Hybris Software and SAP CEC. Channels, instead, are constructs retailers created to organize and categorize the disruptions within the space. Therefore, as retailers strive to increase both customer satisfaction and loyalty, CIOs must focus on technology investments that facilitate seamless customer journeys and frictionless retailing. Those initiatives that don't just answer the question of 'How can I get a single view of my customer?' but also answer 'How can my customer get a single view of me?' will drive the greatest business value overall.

Stucki notes that, to develop this seamless, consistent, and contextual customer experience, retailers will have to adopt analytics solutions that enable them to digest and take advantage of the massive amounts of data at their disposal. Only then will they be able to bring these insights together to create the single view of the customer and facilitate smarter engagement. Customers expect an omnichannel experience when dealing with companies. Therefore, by bringing data together and applying analytics to generate insights, companies will capture a more complete view of the consumer that can then be integrated with front-end solutions for more personalized and relevant engagement with customers.

Ultimately, both mobile and in-store initiatives will impact omnichannel efforts, as each accompanying strategy will add to and extract from the single customer view. Both channels require 360-degree insight into consumer behavior, and both collect data that further influences omnichannel strategy. Thus, every initiative informs every subsequent area within the business, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the retail CIO's top priorities.

Frank & Oak Adds 'Style' to its Omnichannel Efforts

For Frank & Oak, the Canadian menswear retailer, developing an omnichannel experience has become the primary focus for its technology efforts as the brand works to expand its online presence into the brick-and-mortar space. Ethan Song, co-founder and CEO, notes that, when it comes to cultivating the ideal omnichannel experience, brands must be where their customers are, for engagement means providing the service and opportunities they seek. Ultimately, the brand isn't solely devoted to selling, as it also values the art of providing fashion advice and nurturing community growth.

Last November, Frank & Oak opened its first retail locations-two permanent and four pop-up stores-as an extension of its well-established online shop in order to offer its customers an experience they couldn't find anywhere else. "It's all about bringing the product and experience to our customers," Song highlights. "These stores allow customers to explore our collections and experience our service in ways that support and demonstrate our brand value. Our main goal is to bridge the gap between digital and physical."

Each brick-and-mortar location is staffed with style advisors, who are equipped with tablets in an effort to ensure the most comprehensive experience possible. Because all customers must become members of Frank & Oak, these advisors can log in to individuals' accounts and gain knowledge about their previous purchases and past preferences so they may tailor the in-store experience to mirror the e-commerce site. With easy access to product catalogs and customer profiles, this technology empowers staff to promote personalization and uphold the brand's underlying dedication to sharp fashions at affordable prices. Moving forward, Song also plans to expand Frank & Oak's mobile capabilities, using such tools to facilitate both independent transactions and in-store payment processes.

Gold's Gym Mobilizes Its Client Engagement Strategy

Though not within the realm of traditional retail, Gold's Gym has many of the same aspirations as its conventional counterparts. Security and PCI compliance initiatives top the list, according to Bill Floyd, CIO of Gold's Gym, but digitizing the workplace also remains top of mind. By integrating the technologies that improve collaboration and communication throughout the organization, Gold's Gym aims to enhance workflows and boost member engagement to gain the competitive advantage.

"It's hard to differentiate your company in our marketplace without focusing on member experience and engagement," Floyd emphasizes. "We're working to create an ongoing relationship with our members through an online community, our mobile application, and by gathering feedback from them constantly. We're also trying to get employees to engage members on a more personal basis by mobilizing staff who have been figuratively handcuffed to their desks."

Mobile-enabled employees will then be free to tour the facility with new prospects and members as they gather information that would've otherwise required desktop input. Employees can conduct their initial interviews in this more relaxed, natural situation, learning about the individual's goals and interest along the way. Staff members can enter what the prospect wants to accomplish and detail how they can help make that happen into the system throughout the tour and track future developments. Kiosks will also put more control directly into the consumer's hands, as prospects and members will be able to enter their personal information or sign up for classes via this automated system, eliminating the need for manual employee input.

Current Web capabilities will also begin to trickle into the gym's mobile strategy, as prospective members will be able to join Gold's Gym and its online community via smartphone application. This mobile app will replicate the online community experience, allowing consumers to track fitness plans, set goals, monitor nutrition, and interact with their personal trainers. Easily accessible and universally intuitive, this mobile app aims to increase engagement in an effort to boost retention.

"Fitness businesses are notorious for churn," Floyd adds. "We don't have any issue getting people in the front door. Our issue is keeping them longer term, which is endemic throughout the industry. People just aren't as disciplined and committed as they should be. We're trying to put the right tools in the hands of the members and our gym staff to create brand engagement and loyalty from the moment they walk in the door so fitness becomes part of their lives from the start."

Floyd notes that, on average, members who drop off within the first six months are usually gone for good, while those who remain dedicated for longer than six months typically maintain their membership with Gold's Gym until at least the 18-month mark. Therefore, extending engagement by actively encouraging members to pursue their fitness goals and interact with the gym's tools and staff will likely help the company retain members long enough that they become one with the fitness culture and healthy habits.