Customer Experience: Building Trust And Excitement

Mohamed Amer

In talking to retailers, I often hear of a desire for deeper engagement with customers, a richer and more consistent experience, increased customer loyalty, and more ‘wow’ in-store and online.  All of these desires speak to what constitutes customer experience.

There is general sense of the need to deliver an inspiring experience along the customer journey.  I had two distinct customer experiences recently while traveling to Dallas, Texas to visit family.  Each had to do with the idea of customer experience and how companies from airlines to retail stores pursue it with variable success.

Excitement of the Wrong Kind

In order to visit my family, I first had to get from Los Angeles (LAX) to Dallas (DFW).   Although the flight portion of a journey is relatively short, much goes into the complete customer experience of getting there. You have to come up with the date and schedule, compare prices, select the airline and get your preferred seating.

Then there’s the logistics of getting to the airport and securing parking or livery (especially tricky during peak travel periods.) Then printing or downloading boarding passes, checking-in of luggage, and going through security. We’re not done yet, you still have to find your unoccupied assigned seat (hopefully) and room to stow your carry-on (remember, just two).

All this and the flight hasn’t taken off. Yet these are all part of the ‘customer experience’ and journey.  Surprises can lurk everywhere.  Weather at origin or destination can wreak havoc on the flight; as does airline overbooking policies, mechanical troubles, flight crew availability, baggage handlers, and so on.

You guessed correctly, I should not have been surprised (but I really was!) that a direct three-hour flight from LAX to DFW can turn into a 13-hour marathon.  It was full of cancelled flights, introduction of completely unanticipated airport transfers, surprise seating arrangements, plus a luggage-finding exercise (active RFID tag anyone?). The twists and turns were not just unexpected but also undesirable.  It was a distinctly unsatisfying customer experience.

The Right Kind of ExcitementCustomer Experience: Building Trust And Excitement

The second customer experience was at The Shops at Southlake (across from Southlake Town Square), a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth.  Your culinary tastes will not be disappointed with numerous choices in cuisine and price points (high and higher).  You can find almost any specialty retailer here and many luxury brands are well represented.  High expectations become the norm in this retail environment.

But I’ve been accustomed to tone down these expectations whenever I venture into grocery stores.  These are not normally known as models of good customer experience.  Although overly generalized, supermarkets are for the most part undifferentiated in layout (perishables along the perimeter and dry goods in center store) with the same packaged goods brands found up and down the aisles, and discount price tags flying prominently on every shelf.

Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Publix are immediate exceptions that come to mind in food retailing.  Each has differentiated the customer experience through multiple avenues.  These include unique product assortment and range, private label program, and inspiring layout and visuals while generating excitement and emotional connection in a sensory wanderlust.  Yes, these are retail stores engaging the aspirational culinary wants and needs of foodies and gourmet alike.

Enter: Central MarketCustomer Experience: Building Trust And Excitement

I had heard of H-E-B’s Central Market stores in Texas (total of nine as of 2012), and with one a stone’s throw from my sister’s house, I volunteered to help with the grocery shopping!

As soon as you enter and grab a shopping cart you notice a cheery person greeting you at the “Answers” desk (already gets you in right frame of mind).  A layout of the store hangs next to the desk, the store is divided into several rooms and areas like multiple markets catering to your daily needs.  Gone are the long center aisles replaced with intrigue around every corner. A promising start for a good customer experience.

Fruit and vegetables galore is the first “room” as you step through the threshold.  The colors are brilliant, attractive, and welcoming.  There was an amazing 26 types of apples on display, nine of which were organic!  Coming from California, the prices were very reasonable, but I got the sense that you could do better at some competing stores; but I doubt they can match the variety and freshness.

At Central Market the customer weighs and tags their own produce and fruit using the many available scales.  I saw one customer that was using her own re-usable bag and was sticking the labels on the outside of her bag for scanning at checkout.

Coming around the corner I found my day’s destination: the fish market.  From my list, I found Atlantic Salmon and Hawaiian Kona Kampachi fish.  The store associates were of course knowledgeable as to taste, texture, and cooking ideas.  They were also helpful in explaining about how the Kampachi was farmed (offshore in deeper waters, were not genetically modified, and without antibiotics or hormones).

And without even asking, they added some ice to keep the fish fresh until we finished shopping and the drive home.  I added exemplary customer service and knowledgeable employees to my list for a good customer experience.

Having made my ‘assigned’ purchase, I was primarily tagging along with other family members as I explored the store.  I found some handy “short-cuts” between rooms if you wanted to make a quick exit to the checkout counters.  So despite a room-type of layout, customers weren’t forced to navigate these if in a hurry.  I spent some time in the bulk nuts and candy area and was delighted that I can make my own fresh peanut or almond butter at the press of a button (and knowing that it’s 100% peanuts or almonds).

I found the bakery astounding in the variety and the hub bub of activity behind the counters late in the day.  The cheese department was another busy area with lots of choices.  I picked up some feta cheese, only to discover they carried not one but five different varieties.  The olive bar was extensive and the deli hot foods make for convenient and healthy alternative to cooking for time-starved shoppers.  I added unexpected excitement and choices to my list for memorable customer experience.

Many people would be surprised not to find a lot of “major” national brands on the shelves.  Instead you’ll notice lots of private label goods with smaller brands and some from overseas.  This was reminiscent of Trader Joe’s (carrying almost exclusively all private label goods) strategy or Wegmans.  With those two retailers, it’s about trusting the store brand for quality, taste, and value.  It’s also about trusting the skilled workers in the stores to know their products and to make timely and relevant suggestions.  So something similar must be happening at Central Market.  Trust made it into the customer experience bag.

My Take AwayCentral-Market-3

The folks at Central Market found a way to make for a memorable customer experience out of buying groceries.  The layout, the products, the store personnel, the smells, the visuals were all fantastic.  I wouldn’t go there to fill up on my cleaning supplies and paper products necessarily, but for that unique meal that is sure to impress, Central Market hits the spot.  There wasn’t the usual push and shove of carts, but a more casual and friendly strolling for culinary ideas.  Customers chatted with each other and with the store associates.

Shopping wasn’t a painful event, these customers appeared to enjoy being at Central Market!  They turned customer experience into desired customer behavior (exuberant fans). So what happened here? What did Central Market do that was different? I think there are a few key themes that helped Central Market redefine the value for money formula in their market:

  • Simplify her life.  Reduce shopping complexity for your customers. Planning a meal can be a complex activity, especially for the hurried working couple or busy mom.  Store layout with meal ideas and associated items in same proximity make it easier to find what you need. Now couple that with knowledgeable store employees, and you’re ready to be chef for a day.
  • Trust and consistency. Central Market earned the trust of their customers by delivering consistently on value (quality, taste, price) using private label, unique products, and a store full of helpful employees. Central Market also shared that trust by letting customers weigh their own produce, bulk nuts, etc. Together these build a “shopping culture” of trust.
  • Excitement. There’s a genuine and contagious excitement about food in empowered store employees.  Everywhere you turn you can find evocative food visuals that invite you to try new foods, find answers, share opinions.  There’s a sense of energy as you move around the store.  It’s infectious!

To make this happen, design (really experience) how a customer engages with the company throughout her purchase journey.  Customers want their specific needs met, they desire convenience and a personalized experience.  This journey is not linear and for grocery, discovery and decision can happen very quickly. Your store employees have influence along the way.

This customer journey pushes and challenges how you traditionally plan and market as well as sell and service your customers.  It necessitates a fresh approach of design thinking that takes a customer perspective to all interactions and supporting processes.  It requires that the organization builds the right capabilities, trains and empowers their employees while investing in the right set of technologies to deliver on the design and the brand promise.  The customer experience is at the heart of it all and it is not limited to affluent customers only.

Do you know your customers’ experience with your brand?

Follow me on Twitter @Bizuser

A modified version of this post originally appeared on the SAP Community Network and has been republished here with permission.

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Mohamed Amer

About Mohamed Amer

Mohamed Amer is the Global Head Strategic Communications, Global Consumer Industries, at SAP. He joined SAP in 2003 as owner of the grocery solution offering, and has since led teams in Retail Supply Chain and Field Services. After three years managing initiatives and programs involving BPX/SCN, User Groups, and Executive Councils for Trade Industries, is now in a Strategic Communications role in the Retail IBU.

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Amazing Digital Marketing Trends And Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015

Sunny Popali

Amazing Digital Marketing Trends & Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015The fast-paced world of digital marketing is changing too quickly for most companies to adapt. But staying up to date with the latest industry trends is imperative for anyone involved with expanding a business.

Here are five trends that have shaped the industry this year and that will become more important as we move forward:

  1. Email marketing will need to become smarter

Whether you like it or not, email is the most ubiquitous tool online. Everyone has it, and utilizing it properly can push your marketing ahead of your rivals. Because business use of email is still very widespread, you need to get smarter about email marketing in order to fully realize your business’s marketing strategy. Luckily, there are a number of tools that can help you market more effectively, such as Mailchimp.

  1. Content marketing will become integrated and more valuable

Content is king, and it seems to be getting more important every day. Google and other search engines are focusing more on the content you create as the potential of the online world as marketing tool becomes apparent. Now there seems to be a push for current, relevant content that you can use for your services and promote your business.

Staying fresh with the content you provide is almost as important as ensuring high-quality content. Customers will pay more attention if your content is relevant and timely.

  1. Mobile assets and paid social media are more important than ever

It’s no secret that mobile is key to your marketing efforts. More mobile devices are sold and more people are reading content on mobile screens than ever before, so it is crucial to your overall strategy to have mobile marketing expertise on your team. London-based Abacus Marketing agrees that mobile marketing could overtake desktop website marketing in just a few years.

  1. Big Data for personalization plays a key role

Marketers are increasingly using Big Data to get their brand message out to the public in a more personalized format. One obvious example is Google Trend analysis, a highly useful tool that marketing experts use to obtain the latest on what is trending around the world. You can — and should — use it in your business marketing efforts. Big Data will also let you offer specific content to buyers who are more likely to look for certain items, for example, and offer personalized deals to specific groups of within your customer base. Other tools, which until recently were the stuff of science fiction, are also available that let you do things like use predictive analysis to score leads.

  1. Visual media matters

A picture really is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and nobody can deny the effectiveness of a well-designed infographic. In fact, some studies suggest that Millennials are particularly attracted to content with great visuals. Animated gifs and colorful bar graphs have even found their way into heavy-duty financial reports, so why not give them a try in your business marketing efforts?

A few more tips:

  • Always keep your content relevant and current to attract the attention of your target audience.
  • Always keep all your social media and public accounts fresh. Don’t use old content or outdated pictures in any public forum.
  • Your reviews are a proxy for your online reputation, so pay careful attention to them.
  • Much online content is being consumed on mobile now, so focus specifically on the design and usability of your mobile apps.
  • Online marketing is essentially geared towards getting more traffic onto your site. The more people visit, the better your chances of increasing sales.

Want more insight on how digital marketing is evolving? See Shutterstock Report: The Face Of Marketing Is Changing — And It Doesn’t Include Vince Vaughn.

Learn more about marketing Analytics.

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Sunny Popali

About Sunny Popali

Sunny Popali is SEO Director at www.tempocreative.com. Tempo Creative is a Phoenix inbound marketing company that has served over 700 clients since 2001. Tempos team specializes in digital and internet marketing services including web design, SEO, social media and strategy.

Compelling Shopping Moments: 4 Creative Ways Stores Connect With Their Customers

Ralf Kern

compelling shopping momentsOn a recent morning, as I was going through my usual routine, my coffeemaker broke. I cannot live without coffee in the morning, so I immediately looked up my coffeemaker on Amazon and had it shipped Prime in one day. My problem was solved within minutes. My Amazon app, and my loyalty account with that company, was there for me when I needed it most.

It was in this moment that I realized the importance of digital presence for retailers. There is a chance that the store 10 minutes from my house carries this very same coffeemaker; I could have had it in one hour, instead of one day. But the need for immediate access to information pushed me to the online store. My local retailer was not able to be there for me digitally like Amazon.

Retail is still about reading the minds of your customers in order to know what they need and create a flawless experience. But the days of the unconnected shopper in a monochannel world are over. I am not alone in my digital-first mindset; according to a recent MasterCard report, 80% of consumers use technology during the shopping process. I, and consumers like me, use mobile devices as a guide to the physical world.

We don’t need to have an academic discussion about multichannel, omnichannel, and omnicommerce and their meanings, because what it really comes down to for your consumers, or fans, is shopping. And shopping has everything to do with moments in your customers’ lives: celebration moments, in-a-hurry moments, I-want-to-be-entertained moments, and more. Most companies only look for and measure very few moments along the shopping journey, like the moment of coupon download or the moment of sales.

Anticipating these moments was easier when mom and pop stores knew their customers by name. They knew how to be there for their shoppers when, where, and how they wanted it. And shoppers didn’t have any other options. Now it is crucial for companies to understand all of these moments and even anticipate or trigger the right moments for their customers.

In today’s digital economy the way to achieve customer connection is with simple, enjoyable, and personalized front ends that are supported by sophisticated, digital back ends. Then you can use that system to support your customer outreach.

Companies around the world are using creative and innovative methods to find their customers in various moments. Being there for customers comes in many different shapes and forms. Consider these examples:

Chilli Beans

A Brazilian maker of fashion sunglasses, glasses, and watches, Chilli Beans has a loyal following online and at over 700 locations around the world. Chilli Beans keeps its customers engaged by releasing 10 limited-edition styles each week. If customers like what they see, they have to buy fast or risk missing out.

Bonobos

Online men’s fashion retailer Bonobos reaches its customers with its Guide Shops. While they look like traditional retail outlets, the shops don’t actually sell any clothes. Customers come in for one-on-one appointments with the staff, and if they like anything that they try on, the staff member orders it for them online and it is shipped to their house. The 20 Guide Shops currently open have proven very successful for the company.

Peak Performance

Peak Performance, a European maker of outdoor clothing, has added a little magic to its customer experience. It has created virtual pop-up shops that customers can track on their smartphones through CatchMagicHour.com, and they are only available at sunrise and sunset at exact GPS locations. Customers who go to the location, be it at a lighthouse or on top of a mountain, are rewarded with the ability to select free clothing from the virtual shop that they have unlocked on their phones.

Shoes of Prey

The customer experience is completely custom at Shoes of Prey, a website where women can design custom shoes. From fabric to color, the customer picks every element, and then her custom creation is sent directly to her house. Shoes of Prey has even shifted its business model based on customer feedback. Its customers wanted to get inspiration and advice in a physical store. So Shoes of Prey made the move from online-only to omnicommerce and has started to open stores around the world.

While the customer experience for each of these connections is relatively simple – a website, a smartphone, an online design studio – the back end that powers them has to be powerful and nimble at the same time. These sophisticated back ends – powering simple, enjoyable, and personalized front ends – will completely change the game in retail. They will allow companies to engage their customers in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.

Technology will help you be there in the shopping moment. The best technology won’t annoy your customers with irrelevant promotions or pop-up messages. Instead, like a good friend, it will know how to engage with customers and when to leave them alone – how to truly connect with customers instead of manage them. Consequently, customer relationship management as we know it is an outdated technology in the economy of today – and tomorrow. Technologies that go beyond CRM will help retailers to differentiate. Aligning your organization and those technologies will be the Holy Grail to creating true and sustainable customer loyalty.

Learn more ways that business will never be the same again. Learn 99 Mind-Blowing Ways The Digital Economy Is Changing The Future Of Business.

Find out how SAP can help you go beyond CRM and support your retail business.

Ralf Kern is Global Vice President Retail for SAP and a retail ambassador for SAP. Interested in your feedback. You can also get in touch on Twitter or LinkedIn

This blog also appeared on SAP Customer Network.

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Ralf Kern

About Ralf Kern

Ralf Kern is the Global Vice President, Business Unit Retail, at SAP, responsible for the future direction of SAP’s solution and global Go-to-Market strategy for Omnicommerce Retail, leading them into today’s digital reality.

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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Dan Wellers

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

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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.