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Enabling the omni-consumer — an interview with HP’s Saif Rivers

20130309_RS_017P8278.jpgIn the world of retail, power has shifted to the consumer. The consumer controls the shopping experience, deciding when, where, and how to shop. And despite all the talk of the omni-channel, it’s really the consumer that’s “omni,” taking advantage of whatever shopping method is most convenient at any moment, even switching from channel to channel.

 

For a better understanding of how consumers are driving demand for a winning experience—no matter where they shop—we sat down with Saif Rivers, Retail Client Principal, HP Enterprise Services, for a quick Q&A.

 

ES: It’s been almost a year since we’ve spoken with you. Welcome back! At that time you were offering insight and commentary on the omni-channel experience. It seems things have shifted a bit. What’s different?

SRivers: Retail moves incredibly quickly, so there’s definitely been changes in the past 12 months. If you look at what is underpinning the omni-channel story you see retailers rapidly adopting data analtyics to help support their customers’ journey. So retailers are engaging customers across multiple channels, examining what and where they are buying, and then shaping an experience for their customers based on their habits, and where they are likely to engage again. On the other side of that dynamic, customers are much more informed than they ever have been. There’s significant opportunity for consumers to be influenced by a retailer along the path to purchase. They may look at comparison sites, competitor sites, or use social or location-based apps to crowdsource. To be successful, retailers need to be able to present the information their customers are seeking on their customers’ terms—especially online. There’s an abundance of reviews and information available to the consumer. Smart retailers are starting to provide links to third-party sites or reference specific awards that the products might have won, hence retailers are supplying detailed product information for their customers. Conversely, retailers are becoming acutely aware of what a danger it is for customers to know more about their products than their sales associates. So retailers need to have an internal knowledge source and robust training modules that inform associates about their offerings. That means everyone’s got to up their game. The rising tide raises all boats.

 

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ES: Let’s talk about the lack of expertise, then, when it comes to big-box retailers that can’t possibly train sales associates—due to so much, and so diverse, an inventory. Do you think the trend of closing these stores is going to continue?

SRivers: The decline of the big box store is certainly well-documented. Some of the world’s largest retailers are shrinking their mega-stores and maintaining a much smaller footprint. But what’s happening there is actually really interesting. The big box retailers are using “endless-aisle” techniques to  retain the scale of their offerings by twinning their smaller stores with their online presence. The reality is, we are seeing a fundamental shift in the scale of operations from a real estate perspective. Malls are changing the way they format their environments as we see the disappearance of anchor stores, and an evolution of much smaller shops. Consumers are looking for more restaurants, bars and cinemas at malls. So it’s becoming a bigger lifestyle play than it is strictly retail. Not only that, the stores themselves are becoming experience centers to showcase the innovation from the brand. There may even become a time where these much smaller stores hold virtually no inventory, and are merely outlets for consumers to try before they buy, and their choice is shipped to them. Finally, we’re seeing a few of these stores transforming their under-perfoming real estate into “dark-stores” to be used as pickup locations and distribution centers. But overall I’d say the model is changing. Where it will end up is anybody’s guess at this point.

 

ES: With this ever-shifting retail landscape, what are the three things you talk about when you are talking to retailers?

SRivers: First, we talk about immediate performance. In other words, the ability to provide immediate fulfillment across the entire retail environment. This is critical. A customer doesn’t want to place an order and have it delivered a week later. So we’re helping our customers work through that complexity across their entire supply chain. We also are talking about visibility. Having clear inventory visibility across all the customer touchpoints. We helping retailers get beyond that challenge. The third area is what we touched on earlier—shaping the customer journey. In other words, understanding what customers want from a retail brand, and then delivering that experience at each and every touch point. Retailers that are doing this most successfully, and then training their staff on how to enable that customer journey, are  experiencing significant growth.

 

ES: You spoke with us a year ago about an omni-channel environment, and you’re speaking to us now about omni-consumers. What do you think you’ll be speaking to us about five years from now?

SRivers: That’s  loaded question, given the rate we’re seeing these changes. There are a few things that we’ve seen that are staring to show a glimmer of interest—and some are more advanced than others. Sensors, for example. These devices are really inexpensive, so it’s fairly cost-effective to outfit a store with sensors and use them to optimize operations. Right now, sensors are binary, they are either on or off. I think five years from now they will have greater awareness, so they will be able to take in much more data and deliver it in a meaningful way. Certainly wearables are interesting across all industries, not just retail. Furthermore wearable devices such as Google Glass and the Android watches are gaining attention. Currently the question is: How can we use these technologies in a meaningful way, not just as something that is cool, or different, but as something that really drives meaningful value for retailers? I think there’s still a comfort gap here between users and adopters. By that I mean these are such glaringly obvious pieces of technology. Once that same technology can be included in a standard set of reading glasses, or an analog watch with much more functionality, we’ll see broader adoption. What implications that has for retail is yet to be seen. Finally, I think 3D printing is definitely something of great interest. Again, the cost model isn’t quite right and the applications aren’t obvious, but I think it holds tremendous promise for consumers and retailers. For example, a small parts manufacturer could fulfill an order in any location, or a watch repair shop could create custom parts on-site. For retailers, having a 3D printer in their store could also draw a lot of interest and traffic for what they have on their shelves.

 

ES: Finally, what solutions do HP Industry Services provide that enable the omni-consumer?

SRivers: If you look at what HP is terming the “New Style of IT,” this fundamentally supports the omni-channel experience for retailers and consumers alike. Our range of Mobility services enable customer engagment, both in and out of the store yet also allow for associates to be more productive and better informed. Security is absolutely key in the digital retail world; our offerings of Fortify, TippingPoint and Arcsight allow a retailer to secure their digital borders and thwart attackers on the fly. Cloud solutions are a critical  part of enabling the optimized experience anytime, anywhere, across any channel. Our Analytics offerings have been supporting global retailers with insight that enables them to grow their business. In our Software space we have leading tools such as Autonomy which is an industry recognized CMS platform, used by many retailers to deliver the very best on-line experience possible. When all this is underpinned by our Services offerings of consulting, configuration, deployment and management you have a winning combination for both the retailer and the consumer.

 

Saif_Rivers_badge_176x304_tcm245_1551313_tcm245_1422290_32_tcm245-1551313.jpgAbout Saif Rivers

In his role as Client Principal, Saif provides business advisory consulting services for U.S. retail clients with an emphasis on digital retail and omni-channel activities. He advises HP clients on industry trends, guides client platform selection processes, and defines implementation programs. His focus is on delivering valuable, actionable insights to HP retail clients across the country.

 

 

 

 

RETAIL.pngTo learn more about how HP is enabling the omni-channel experience at home, online and in the store, check out the latest edition of HP Industry Edge related to Consumer and Retail Industries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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