In this blog, I am going to share my insights on retail transformation, taken from a recent presentation I gave on behalf of RetailWeek.

Retail is an area I am passionate about. It is a space that is both dynamic and challenging but above all resourceful, resilient and creative.

There is no denying that our High Street is now facing unprecedented challenges – we all read the weekly headlines relating to the fallout of massive disruption -catalysed by changing consumer behaviour, growing demands and the rapid evolution of technology.

As a partner at Digital Works Group, I help businesses look at their customer experience and the digitisation in retail. Helping them adapt and develop the right strategies and plans to implement.

Of course, retail is no stranger to change – if you chart its history it has never stood still for long – but the issues faced today are caused by both the speed and complexity of ‘change’. Retailers are now forced to take immediate action or risk obsolescence.

As the industry transforms, retailers will increasingly have to turn to new models, technologies and partnerships to drive innovation and growth. Placing the customer’s needs at the centre of their efforts.


Retail Transformation: The perfect storm?

I have likened the current environment to ‘the perfect storm’. There are many opportunities, but, as digital Darwinism dictates, only those who learn and adapt (and continue to do so), will ride the ‘storm’. As the slide below illustrates, some have already been left behind.

The digital pure plays may have an advantage, but there are also many well established ‘traditional’ brands who have successfully adapted to the digital world. Sephora is a tremendous retail example – a cosmetic brand launched in Paris in 1969 – that is consistently innovating; offering a truly omnichannel experience for their customer and continually tapping into new technology such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality for exceptional customer personalisation.


Retail transformation slide detailing why retailing must change


Whether you are in store, online or even communicating with your customers on the telephone, you must create a seamless experience, and allow movement from one channel to another without friction.

Each channel can and should offer unique benefits to the customer. Far from being ‘dead’, bricks and mortar is merely evolving. It’s no coincidence that digital pure plays are moving into the physical retail environment in a bid to create real-life experiences. The high street has an opportunity to offer the shopper rewarding and memorable experiences that tap into the social aspects of shopping, and deepen brand loyalty.


Firstly, you must have a clear vision, strategy and targets.

During the presentation, I talked about the critical need for a clear vision and strategy when it comes to your retail transformation. What will your organisation look like? What do you want to achieve? Where are you today, and how will you get to your new vision? It must be led from the top and driven down through the organisation.


Retail transformation slide: detailing the importance of clear vision and strategy


Meaningful insights

Your vision for the future should be based on learnings and meaningful data. Backed by clear goals and measurable objectives. A customer experience-led strategy means creating a customer experience that is joined up and personalised.

You should be clear on what each channel is going to do and the role of digital in making that happen – this is not about digital for digital’s sake!



Retail transformation slide: detailing the need to consolidate insights


Having the right people

People are always the driving force (and also stumbling block) for any large scale business transformation. Cross-functional teams are essential when you are developing the right strategy. There should be broad representation from every area of your business to develop the right concepts and test and challenge assumptions.


Translating your vision to the different areas of your retail business

To enable change, it must be managed in a structured way. I discussed how retail transformation is about changing how you approach your commercial models. Fundamentally you are changing many different parts of your organisation. As the slide below illustrates, you need to understand what the change will mean for each and every part. You need to know what you are going to do and how you are going to it.



Driving innovation is critical.

During the presentation, the challenge of innovation was something some raised. Innovation is vital to success, but knowing how to approach it and quickly bring ideas to fruition is not easy – especially in larger organisations.

In my experience, innovation needs to be managed and co-ordinated. An innovation pipeline approach should allow you to focus and break ideas down and test.

Someone should facilitate it and keep it moving along the process, but realistically one person can’t manage all of the innovation. The people within the areas you want to transform should be brought together – for example, heads of customer experience, customer operations, store experience and analytics. As a team, you can then test innovative ideas.

You are also going to need the right people to execute – testing, trialling and optimising to keep innovations moving along the pipeline. The crux is developing a multi-layered way of working.

New partnerships should also be fostered – for example identifying the right agile start-ups who can offer relevant new technology to trial. You can then see if it works and scale. Start-ups need large companies, and large companies need start-ups, but someone needs to broker the relationship to bring the best to the table.


Key Learnings

The presentation concluded with a summary of critical learnings taken from my experience of managing retail transformation. Unsurprisingly, they are not focused on technology (although important), but the people driving change. This cannot be underestimated.

At Digital Works Group we are experts in helping clients move up the Digital Evolution Curve, with the help of 9 critical success factors (our change pyramid). These are all the essential elements needed to make change quicker and smoother. Split between strategic change factors and executional factors. If you would like to understand a little more about this approach, you can watch our on-demand webinar.

Retail transformation slide: key learnings

This gives a flavour of what I covered on the day. If you would like a more in-depth discussion with me on your retail challenges, please get in touch as I would love to help.


Mobile: 07825 948471

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More on Retail Reinvented…

In the coming months I will be taking in detail on the ways that retailers can start to transform and innovate, and sharing some insights on the best way to go about this in a structured yet agile way. Keep a lookout on our blog and social channels as we make them available.


Andrew Salmon