2017, the year of digital transformation for the retail sector
It’s been a busy year for the retail sector as it deals with the fallout of political events, which have shed doubt on supply chains and consumer confidence. Amid the disruption experienced this year however, there’s another challenge the sector will be squaring up to in 2017 – digital transformation.
Retail is still trying to catch up to customers’ digital demands although it’s an industry reliant on anticipating needs and wants before they materialise. What does this mean for the people agenda? Not only do companies need to chase digital transformation but they also need to make sure they have the right skills in the right positions to truly place the customer at the heart of their business.
The drive for digital
Digital developments are climbing to the top of the retail agenda. They’re becoming a more important part of ongoing omni-channel transformations. Online shopping for example, seen to be at peak popularity during the phenomenon of Cyber Monday, has forced retailers to improve their online offering. In this respect, the majority of brands seems to be meeting customers’ needs and now have apps to bring retail to the customer anywhere and everywhere.
Retail leaders are struggling to keep up though. Rather than initiating full-scale digital transformations, they’re reacting to them. This results in a game of catch-up with customers and the latest digital developments. We may have just caught up with the latest technology innovations this year, but next year there is a whole new batch on the horizon, from further Virtual Reality developments and Artificial Intelligence – of which Amazon Echo has offered the first glimpse.
Leading digital transformational change
Interims have an increasing role to play. Specialist skills are necessary if retailers are to be at the forefront of digital technology and harness it to enhance customer experience. At the moment within the retail industry, interims are largely required in a reactive crisis capacity – and this needs to change. A renewed focus on digital transformational change means interim management will occupy a larger and more prevalent role on the retail agenda. Those with digital specialist experience will be particularly in demand.
All businesses leading digital transformation projects face a formidable challenge. No one can predict the latest technological trend to enter the market and although it’s the foundation of our entire sector, it’s almost impossible to foresee what the customer wants next with their retail relationships.
We need to ensure businesses are in the best shape to prepare for fast-paced digital drives. More technology skills need to be brought into the sector and the customer needs to be truly at the heart of businesses so when the next digital innovation strikes, companies are well positioned to respond.
The HR Solution
Leadership is key to digital transformation. Retailers can struggle to try and keep up with both their customers and digital innovation – so change must come from above. Difficulties already exist as the holistic view of a customer once prescribed to in the past has been largely dispelled across the industry. Now, we understand each customer as a constantly changing and separate entity. Adding digital innovation to this creates more complexity and requires new skillsets.
Most retail Exec boards consist of the Chief Executive and Chief Financial Officer – but no HR Director. For businesses trying to place the customer at the centre of decisions and keep up with digital developments actions this seems a potential mistake. Chasing candidates with the right skills to lead and transform digital approaches should be a top priority and it should be up to the HR Director to deliver these. The fast-moving pace of digital innovation requires a proactive solution and putting the task of finding the right skills to the top of the HR agenda could be part of the answer.
Jonathan Flynn is a Consultant specialising in the Retail sector.