The Future of Retail

London, April 2015

By Maya Plentz

In our increasingly connected world every layer of an organization, from press relations to marketing and customer service, has become digital.  The Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is the connective tissue binding the IT and the marketing communications spheres of a company, startup, or institution. Why do we need this new cross-over role?  Because it is more important than ever to integrate data insights to drive growth and to better understand and communicate with customers and stakeholders.

It is no surprise for those in the trenches, managing day-to-day the IT department and the media relations team, that Gartner’s latest report identifying the 10 strategic technology trends for 2015 sees the well-articulated and executed digital strategy at the core of successful, profitable, companies.

According to Gartner, the number of Chief Digital Officer positions being offered has doubled since 2013 and continues to grow.  There is an on-going debate about the need of such an integrator, who sees commercial opportunities, and understands the new technologies underlying the new paradigm shift in media relations and marketing communications – to cite one example of how the IT and the marketing departments, and the company as whole, can benefit of such guidance and vision.

If CMOs or Heads of Media everywhere gather in a room they most likely want to create brand enhancement opportunities by say, redesigning an app to make it journalist friendly, or revamp the social media content strategy to reach an older, more affluent demographic.

Meanwhile, the CIO or the Head of the IT department are trying to cope with volume of access at peak Christmas shopping days in the US calendar, or security issues on the company’s e-commerce side of things.

The CDO’s job is to have a 360 view of these business imperatives, to see how to prioritize and implement them in the light of commercial goals.

Because today, companies’ digital strategies are all about harnessing the power of big data, listening to the conversation in social media channels, the ubiquity of mobile access, sensors and wearables, and deriving commercial insight from all points of contact with the “real” off-line world.

Take for instance grocery shopping at some of the largest supermarkets in London. You walk through M&S and it is lovely, the bakery smells entrance you, you almost break the rule of “no carbs”. Or Sainsbury, with it is well organized wine section, such a pleasure to the eye. But go to their website and, horror of horrors, you came down a notch in the realm of grocery shopping pleasure.

Waitrose might come closer in terms of matching the in-store with the online shopping experience, but their delivery system is completely out of sorts, there is clearly a disconnect between the marketing communications, the IT, and customer service departments both at the store and online.

The online grocery shopping experience in all three supermarket giants leaves much to be desired precisely because this disconnect between departments. They could take a hint of Amazon for starters. And do not let me get started with the apps, I mean, do they have apps? Oh. Someone forgot to tell me. But please when and if they do have one, can someone check that in case I am re-targeted, if I must, the relevant products that match my in-store behaviour are shown on my lovely image-rich smartphone? It is an iPhone, by the way. So please no images floating disconnected from text, and let me shop at a swipe and tap, securely.

Does anyone have an idea how much revenue loss these three supermarkets have incurred so far? This is how important the new position of Chief Digital Officer is, because what is needed is a deep understanding of the range of technologies available to deliver the services and products advertised: the brand promise is delivered through digital as well. I feel like I am stating the obvious. But as the saying goes: common sense is not that common.

Technologies currently available to integrate seamlessly the online with the on-store shopping experience create unparalleled opportunities for established companies and tech startups alike to engage with consumers.

But territorial disputes and silo mentality will miss these opportunities, hence the CDO’s role to drive a comprehensive strategy for the company, one that is aligned with the overarching strategic business goals.

Regardless of the size of the company. I am not fully convinced that tech startups fare better, for when the founders are from a purely tech background they might miss the insights that exposure to other disciplines can provide.

Clearly there is the need for someone who has a more well-rounded background, and international experience, not a former CIO nor a former CMO will do in some cases. We need someone who can think holistically, heuristically, not only about big data, not only about mobile, but also about logistics and content distribution across cultures, time zones, and shopping patterns.

Photo Copyright © Maya Plentz

Copyright © 2018 by Maya Plentz

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