It's A Phygital World

KC Krishnadas

In May 2016, nearly 150 years after Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata started a private trading firm in 1868 that grew into the giant Tata Group, TataCLiQ was launched. It was the conglomerate’s first venture into pure-play digital. This e-commerce venture, however, is different from the likes of Amazon or Flipkart in that it converges physical with digital retail, delivering India’s first true “omnichannel” customer experience. Its executives call it “phygital,” a platform that allows shoppers to order, collect, return, or exchange products either online or at any of its brand partners’ brick-and-mortar stores.

I have a fairly prosaic definition of digital because it helps me focus on where I think the disruptions can happen. While enterprises have seen the first wave of disruption due to ‘digital-only platforms,’ the second wave of digital will be ‘phygital’—a combination of physical and digital, commonly called ‘omnichannel.’ –KRS Jamwal, executive director, Tata Industries and Digitalist 2017

The ‘Q’ in the TataCLiQ logo is in the form of a magnifying glass—a visual representation of the brand’s focus on only the best, most authentic brands and products. Unlike other Indian e-tailers that have burnt big-time cash in their quest for growth, this one-year-old enterprise is already disrupting the disruptors through tech-enabled innovation.

When Tricia Manning-Smith, senior on-air global correspondent, Customer Storytelling Team, SAP, dropped in to meet senior TataCLiQ executives Ashutosh Pandey, CEO; Vikas Purohit, COO; and Sauvik Banerjjee, CTO—as well as K.R.S. Jamwal, executive director, Tata Industries Ltd.—to find out more about TataCLiQ, Digitalist magazine decided to accompany her. Edited excerpts from the conversation with the Tata executives follow:

Manning-Smith: What makes TataCLiQ unique?

Banerjjee: It has enabled the brick-and-mortar model online. When you place an order, the store fulfilling it will be one close to your address, or to the pin code of the location you reside in. Ours is not a warehouse model, but a store based fulfilment one. If you place an order for a blue shirt of a certain brand, for instance, you are informed of the stores nearest to your home that stock it. You can either collect it from these stores or have it delivered home, whichever you prefer.

TataCLiQ also opens up all luxury brands. Retailers across product categories love that. Who wouldn’t want his inventory problem in the franchise-driven retail world solved? People thought we were entering the game late. What they did not understand is that we have the loyalty of a huge pan-India customer base.

The consumer shops online and picks up selected products from a nearby store or has it delivered home. Every part of India has a pin code, so when an order is placed, the store nearest to your home puts up its hand and competes with other stores nearby to fulfill your order. The seller can continuously see the orders and where they are coming from. It is similar to the lodging or the taxi businesses now around the world that own neither hotels nor taxis.

Can you buy anything on TataCLiQ?

Banerjjee: It now has clothing for men and women, electronics, footwear, watches, and accessories, but more categories will be added. Many international brands are also seeking to enter the Indian market through Tata-CLiQ .

Can you elaborate some more on the ‘phygital’ experience?

Pandey: Retail, enabling customers to pick up products from a store or having it shipped to their homes is uni-dimensional, easy to do. In India, many brands do not reach beyond the top 10-12 cities because of infrastructure issues. What we have done, for the first time in the world, is become an omnichannel provider for many big brands.

We can scale brand by brand. It’s better than putting up the physical infrastructure ourselves, which would be duplication. This model removes the physical-digital divide by giving customers a seamless experience across both worlds. Conventionally, customers have one or the other, not both and not seamlessly. So ‘phygital’ is combining the physical and digital seamlessly. We were not the first to go to market. Competition existed, and so we had to bring in a degree of innovation and value.

Does TataCLiQ understand India better than its e-tailing rivals?

Pandey: The Tata group has businesses from salt to fertilizers to automobiles to software, so it understands many aspects of India better. In retail, we have the combined learning from Titan, Westside, and Tanishq, where we touch millions of customers every day. This learning is built over a period of time. While algorithms and data can tell you some things, handling so many customers over the years gives you knowledge and insights like nothing else can.

“Every customer experience is important. The customer is not a statistic. He or she is a living person. The day we have the mastery of trying to make her happy through our offering, through our service, through our end-to-end experience that we provide to her, that’s the time you know multiple things can happen.” –Ashutosh Pandey, Chief Executive Officer, TataCLiQ.com

Banerjjee: We personalize the platform on a daily basis using algorithms. We track web behavior, anonymous user behavior, IP address behavior, where orders are coming from, purchasing history, the demographics of buying for specific products, brands, and the like. Our customer service teams work round the clock, answering queries on orders, product availability, or delivery issues—everything from placing an order to having it delivered. We monitor social media feedback and continuously respond to it, usually within 5-10 minutes. If there is any kind of noise created in social media, we try and ensure that at the end we have a happy customer.

How does the logistics work for a country as big as India?

Banerjjee: What we aim at is a threefold model: traditional, online fulfillment using the large 3PLs, and hyperlocal companies. City-based fulfillment providers do the delivery. They are far more agile than big logistics providers within a city.

How does a live business like TataCLiQ help Indians get what they want, when they want it?

Purohit: Our purpose of existence is to connect buyers from [remote parts of the country] to well-known brands, doing so with the confidence that the product is authentic, delivery is swift, and [the customer has] a great buying experience. What will stand out when doing this is that we take every single customer issue seriously, to the point that we have designed a bespoke metric—a customer obsessiveness index. This index must go up as close to 100 as possible. We are not yet there, but we are on our way.

Jamwal: The Tata founders were visionary when they said that the society is not just another stakeholder but the very reason for our existence. There are few business houses or industrialists who look at society as the reason for existence. The group’s history has been one of organic but structured growth. The plan was not to build a conglomerate but to impact lives, build a nation. This was the ethos of the founded and has been carried on over the decades. That won’t go away.

“India is championing a proper marriage between online and brick and mortar, and that’s where the proposition of TataCLiQ. Its an online store inventory reconciliation with visibility to the consumer from a product attribute, SKU by SKU basis.” –Sauvik Banerjjee, chief technology officer, TataCLiQ .com

Banerjjee: We came here in a Tata vehicle; Jaguar Land Rover is a Tata company. Many trucks on the road we traveled were Tata trucks. Some hoardings on the way were of our consumer-facing brands—Titan, Tanishq, Westside, and Croma. We have Tata Salt, a hugely popular brand of table salt, Tata Beverages with its mineral water and fizzy drinks. It will take all day to list our brands, the businesses we are in.

India is home to 1.4 billion people, and we cannot imagine a single adult in the country who is not consciously or otherwise touching a Tata product every day. We see it as a humongous responsibility, for with great power that comes as $100 billion-dollar business comes great responsibility.

How important is digitalization to the Tata group?

Banerjjee: Let’s put it this way: India is expected to be the third-largest digital economy by 2020, according to data from preeminent research organisations. The digital economy, whether in fintech, IoT, omnichannel, or digital banking, will be massive. With India set to become the third-largest digital economy in the next three years, the Tata group will play a big role in enabling and augmenting it, giving it velocity.

How important is trust in the digital world?

Banerjjee: Digitalization, by its very nature, brings privacy almost to an end. You do not know what the data is being used for. People sometimes may not trust sites that sell all kinds of things. That is why cash on delivery is quite widespread in this country. That is where known brands like the Tata brand, which people trust to do the right things for them as it has done over the decades, count. In our hyper-connected world, people need anchors and trust is one of the biggest anchors. That is the reason for the continued relevance of the Tata group.

“We have realized that most marketplaces have become catalog aggregators vis-a-vis becoming a catalogue authority. That’s the difference in approach that a marketplace can take.” –Vikas Purohit, chief operating officer, TataCLiQ.com

What is TataCLiQ doing to make customers feel special?

Banerjjee: Growth alone is not enough. We are clear that unless the customer experience is at a level where customer falls in love with you, there is no point trying to scale. Every customer experience is important. The customer is not a statistic, but a living person. As broadband percolates across the country, more smartphone users are enabled every passing day and personalization becomes a bigger challenge. That is what we are trying to crack, and it is a great challenge to have.

The day we master the art of making the customer happy through our offerings, our service, our end-to-end experience, multiple things can happen. At the end of the day, we are all customers and we would all like to feel special. The place we are shopping at must understand us as people. That is our goal.

For more insight on where customer engagement is headed, see Customer Experiences Must Be OmniChannel, OmniNow, And OmniWow.

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About KC Krishnadas

KC Krishnadas is the editor of FactorBranded, a brand solutions media agency. He has 25 years of experience covering technology at The Economic Times and later as the India correspondent for EE Times.

Your Customers Are Talking. Are You Listening?

Russell McLean

Consumer products companies are finally able to foster direct relationships with end users of their products. This means engaging them the right way, at the right time, and on the right channel in order to keep pace with the ever-changing demands of today’s digital-savvy consumers.

Engagement and marketing in the past provided no simple way for consumers to share feedback, ask questions, or really get to know the brands they supported. A company’s message was simply received by customers without a platform on which they could respond. Social media has altered that archaic method, and everything is changing.

Social platforms are increasing in popularity, resulting in more informed and engaged consumers.

Just look at the statistics:

  • There’s been a 35 percent increase across the U.S. in average time per week spent on social media
  • Roughly 25 percent of surveyed U.S. users (adults in the United States, 18+ years old) used social media to support their favorite brands

Today’s digital ecosystem presents new opportunities for engagement. Consumers expect brands to listen and react appropriately to what they learn. If a customer is going on vacation or just purchased a new home, companies with relevant products and services should respond accordingly.

Say goodbye to the traditional buying process

Digital-savvy consumers expect personalized shopping experiences, tailored choices, real-time responses, transparent interactions, and closer connections with the brands they support. Why? Because they want to feel empowered.

With plenty of online research, personal recommendations, price comparisons, and customer reviews available at their fingertips, consumers create an interconnected community and chart new paths to purchase. In fact, 78 percent of consumers say they will engage offers only if they have been personalized to their previous engagements with a brand.

No more missed connections

In a digital-first world, consumer products companies should be fast, granular, and connected with customers. It’s not enough to have great products – consumers want an overall brand experience.

I’ve come to discover that many consumer products companies struggle with their digital marketing efforts for three main reasons:

1.  Missed moments: Sending messages at the wrong time

2.  Inauthentic messaging: Sending the wrong message

3.  Failing to engage: Sending a message through the wrong channels

Companies may be able to overcome these issues with a platform that provides insights and direct customer engagement with a customizable experience for corporate-driven campaigns and locally initiated events. That’s where Deloitte Digital’s Consumer Direct solution can help. Sitting within Deloitte Digital’s broader DigitalMix platform, Consumer Direct brings together leading class technologies for multi-brand content management, consumer engagement, and e-commerce, helping to drive the personalized touchpoints companies seek and consumers demand.

Listen and respond to consumers

By taking the guess work out of social listening and providing the tools to respond with the right message, at the right time, the right platform can ultimately drive commerce. Through Deloitte Digital’s ecosystem approach, Consumer Direct is tailored to integrate with most current technology portfolios including:

  • Multi-brand web content management: Through website authoring, publishing, collaboration, and administration tools, users can create and manage content with ease. Depending on the chosen technology, users are able to efficiently organize, store and retrieve rich media assets, and manage digital rights and permissions.
  • Consumer engagement: Sprinklr’s social media management platform helps brands reach, engage, and listen to customers across more than 20 social channels. With offerings specific to marketing, advertising, research, commerce, and customer care, Sprinklr empowers companies to provide a brand experience that consumers crave.
  • E-commerce: The SAP Hybris e-commerce platform enables the electronic exchange of goods and services, online payments and verifications, product catalog, personalized product recommendations, ratings and reviews, and cart features for B2B, B2C, and B2B2C businesses.
  • Customer relationship management: We enlist service providers to enhance the customer relationship journey. Through a customer relationship management platform, we can store customer and prospect contact information, accounts, leads and sales opportunities.

Intrigued? If you’re looking for a way to connect with and deliver superior customer experiences, we should talk. You can also learn how to future-proof your digital business here.

This article originally appeared on The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.

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The Future Of Sales: Bleak Or Bright?

Malin Liden

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at the LinkedIn Sales Executive Forum in London. The topic of the conversation:

Is there a place for sales in an economy where the customer increasingly owns the buying process?

The fact that customers complete up to 70% of their journey and 90% of the buying decision before they want to speak with a vendor is a key driver for social selling. But what’s next—no selling at all?

The audience helped Liam Halpin, head of LinkedIn Sales Solutions in EMEA, answer the question, unanimously predicting that the future of sales remains bright. However, when customers fundamentally change how they buy, we must fundamentally change how we sell.

Asked how sales will evolve in the next years, my answer centers around trust. I believe that we are entering an era of extreme transparency where trust becomes the hardest currency in the economy. Today, if we’re in a sales role and push the customer a little too hard to buy a little more than they want a little sooner than they actually need to, we may damage that particular customer relationship, even if we still have a chance to sell to others.

In the future, when everything about how we treat our customers becomes visible, the price of sacrificing customer experience for a short-term win will not be worth it. It’s ok to win for ourselves and for our company, but the customer must also win—every time—which shifts the focus of customer-facing roles. So my prediction is: The quota crusher is dead; long live the customer success manager!

Here are the top trends that I believe will shape the future of sales:

  • Sales and marketing are converging: When the customer journey is not predictable and there isn’t a straight funnel with a clear handover between sales and marketing, we need to work together much more closely, becoming stewards of a buyers’ journey. This also means we need to measure success differently.
  • Advocacy rules: People connect to people, not functions. We must take advantage of expertise and networks, irrespective of roles and titles. Someone in our own HR team may be the best seller of HR technology based on their expertise, credibility, and network. This is also why it becomes increasingly important to nurture communities of people who are invested in your brand, product, and purpose.
  • Technology becomes the foundation for success: Sales is about relationships, and that happens at a human level. However, we’ll have to be much more sophisticated when it comes to how we develop quality relationships at scale, supported by technology. Customer-facing roles will have intelligent systems around them, helping identify the right time to touch a customer with what specific message. Some of these touchpoints will be automated, and that’s fine—as long as every touchpoint adds value to the customer.

The bottom line: In an environment where the customer owns their journey, you must add value in every interaction, and you can’t annoy your customer, ever. If you hijack a customer’s screen with an ad, interrupt content they want to consume, or make them feel stalked by phone calls when they are not ready to talk to you, you spend relationship capital and pay too high a price.

Already today, 86% of B2B buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as criteria for purchase. If you want to win in a transparent, digital economy where experience rules, the customer can never feel like you’re chasing and pushing them. They must feel like they are in control of finding what they need to make the best possible decision for their company.

We’re there to assist and guide them, not hunt them down. That’s going from push to pull, putting the customer at the center of an approach where selling becomes serving.

For more on this topic, see Step One Of The E-Commerce Journey: Customer-Centered Design.

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Malin Liden

About Malin Liden

Malin Liden is vice president of Digital Experience at SAP.

Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

By Dan Wellers, Kai Goerlich, and Stephanie Overby , Kai Goerlich and Stephanie Overby

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

Other comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future.

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

The process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of BaldFuturist.com who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

Organizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

Lowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!


About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

About Stephanie Overby

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Retail Tomorrow: How Today’s Technology Is Shaping Retail’s Future

Stephen Sparrow

Do you ever think about tomorrow? Many retailers don’t. They’re too concerned with what’s happening in the moment. They’re too wrapped up in managing their daily business operations or maintaining profit margins.

Don’t get me wrong – those things are important. But tomorrow matters more than they know.

With game-changing technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality, and machine learning reshaping the retail landscape, tomorrow can no longer be ignored. If your company wants to stay ahead of the competition – both now and in the future – you need to begin experimenting with these innovations today.

Beer, there, and everywhere: Create an immersive customer experience

Imagine you’re a Brooklyn-based brewery. You craft the most delicious beer anyone’s ever tasted, and Brooklynites are absolutely gaga over your product. But how do you spread the word? How can you make people in Seattle or San Francisco thirst for your beverage?

Virtual reality and IoT tools can help you create a more immersive customer experience – one that gives people an in-depth view into your brewery – so folks across the country can get excited about sampling your suds.

By setting up a 360-degree video camera and implementing virtual reality capabilities, you can invite people all over the world to tour your facility. They can visit the tasting room, check out the outdoor patio, and watch the kettles work their magic in the production area.

IoT sensors, meanwhile, can provide prospective customers with insight around your brewing processes. Attached to the brew kettles, these sensors enable you to share real-time data about each batch of beer, from when the hops reach a boil to when fermentation is complete.

If viewers like what they see, they can order a case of your beer online.

Creating an immersive customer experience, where people get a glance behind the curtain to see how your company operates and how your product is made, is a surefire recipe for retail success.

A passion for fashion: Predict trends so your customers are always dressed to kill

Instagram, the popular image-sharing app, has a global community of more than 800 million users. These users share upwards of 95 million photos and videos per day.

If a woman from the United States is traveling to Tokyo for an upcoming vacation and wants to make sure she looks fashionable while visiting Japan’s capital city, where can she turn?

Instagram, of course.

With a simple keyword search for “fashion” and “Tokyo,” this woman could be knee-deep in results highlighting the top trends from this chic metropolitan hotspot. Now, with a better idea of what the locals are wearing, she can pick up a few new outfits before her trip, and she won’t feel so out of place in her American attire when she visits.

Retailers, particularly fashion brands, can benefit from how consumers are using apps like Instagram. By analyzing what people are wearing in photos taken in fashion meccas like London, Paris, Tokyo, Milan, or New York, your business can have its finger firmly on the pulse.

Pairing your analysis with machine learning capabilities can enable your retailer to detect and predict the hottest fashion trends. This will help your designers tailor the clothing they create to what’s happening – or what will be happening – in the market.

If more people are wearing floral-print miniskirts, you can design matching leggings. If more people are dressing in denim, you can ramp up production on jean jackets.

Staying up to date on the latest fashion trends can keep your retailer at the top of its game. Predicting the next big thing in fashion using machine learning? That will have your business declaring “game over” to all your competitors.

Not your grandma’s kitchen: Increase customer convenience through greater connectivity

Connected products are invading our homes. We have smart TVs in our living rooms. We have showerheads equipped with Bluetooth speakers in our bathrooms. We have lights that brighten or dim based on our sleeping schedules in our bedrooms.

In the kitchen, though, things are getting really intelligent. From precision cookers that alert you when dinner’s ready to coffee makers you can operate with your smartphone, kitchen appliances are creating a whole new level of convenience for customers.

With a smart refrigerator, customers can create shopping lists using a touch screen on the door. IoT capabilities enable people to add or remove items from their lists using a mobile device. Customers can even submit their grocery orders to a nearby store through their smart fridge, a convenient click-and-collect shopping scenario.

Augmented reality, meanwhile, allows people to peek inside their refrigerators without even opening them. If a woman at work wants to see if she has enough milk for a bowl of cereal tomorrow, she can check using a tablet or smartphone.

Retailers and consumer products companies can leverage this technology to deliver a more engaging product experience. The packaging of a stick of butter, for instance, might have a code on it. When a man peers into his refrigerator using his smartphone, he could click on the code and find out the product’s expiration date. Or perhaps he can learn a few new recipes he could bake using the butter.

By creating a hassle-free shopping experience and enhancing how your buyers engage with your products, you can increase sales and earn your customers’ loyalty.

Home sweet home: Modernize retail like real-estate agents have revolutionized homebuying

Think of how the realty business has changed over the past 25 years. In the early ‘90s, prospective homebuyers had to schedule an appointment with a Realtor or attend an open house to see a home they liked.

In the mid-2000s, house hunting went online, with sites like Trulia and Zillow springing up. Today, homebuyers can snap a photo of an on-the-market house they like using a mobile app and see pictures of the home’s interior, learn the price, find out the square footage, and discover how many bathrooms it has.

Retailers should strive to modernize their industry like the realty business has revolutionized homebuying. Barcode scanning and sensor tracking are just a couple technologies that could help.

If a customer is walking through the aisles of your store, you could offer them the opportunity to scan a tag on a shirt with their mobile device and instantly give them access to outfit ideas or show them accessories that match the top.

Sensors, meanwhile, could track where a shopper is in a store, allowing your retailer to send timely and relevant offers based on their location.

Adding value to your customer experience is the name of the game in retail. And there’s no better way to create a more valuable in-store customer experience than with the latest technology.

Innovation experimentation: Forge your path to a brighter future with revolutionary tech tools

Innovations like IoT, virtual reality, and machine learning are shaping what retail’s future will look like.

Your company’s success – both today and tomorrow – will depend on your willingness to embrace these technologies and experiment with new ways to engage and satisfy your customers.

Join us at the National Retail Forum’s 2018 conference and EXPO at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on January 14–16 to learn how the SAP Leonardo digital innovation system can help your organization bring these exciting technologies to life.

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Stephen Sparrow

About Stephen Sparrow

Stephen Sparrow is the Director of Retail Marketing at SAP. He defines, champions and executes marketing strategies to increase penetration and capture of revenue opportunities across SAP's retail enterprise accounts. He also develops industry advancing and perception enhancing programs to drive brand preference for SAP in the retail community.