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Charting the Course to a New World of Retail

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Now that retail’s hottest season is over, how did your business perform? Most retailers I talk to are still trying to recover from the holidays, but a few seem to have sailed through unscathed, firmly in the black and primed to take on 2013. How did they do it?

Early explorers paved the way for the merchants and consumers that would follow. They had ocean-worthy vessels, rudimentary maps, a crew and a goal — but they also spent much of their time in literally uncharted waters, developing detailed maps and descriptions to create a profile of each new place they visited.

Of course, they didn’t have GPS to track where they were headed, no tablets, smartphones or apps to track their progress and keep “followers” updated. Compared to them, we have it pretty easy.

My sense is that these unscathed retailers not only utilize the tools at hand, they hold on to this adventurous spirit. They embrace retail without boundaries — creating a simplified view of the customer across selling channels, lines of business and international borders.

Maintaining visibility
Creating an entirely new map of the retail world isn’t easy. Despite the abundance of tools and data, we’re all still struggling for a clearer view of the bigger picture: Who is the customer? What, how and when does she want to buy? What will motivate her to buy from us?

The answers lie in finding the right technology to pare down and analyze the data and define proactive campaigns to maximize customer interactions across all channels – a true multi-channel approach based on real data.

But defining the map requires collaboration with our internal team, peers, partners and suppliers – breaking down the silos. Each of these groups owns an important piece of the picture and without collaboration, we don’t know if we’re on track or sailing off the edge of the world. Cloud-based business networks are more important than ever, giving retailers the visibility into global supply networks, corporate inventory and store-level data to ensure shelves are stocked with the items in demand at any given time.

Finally, lest we run into rough seas, we must listen to our customers. Social analytics are more powerful than ever before and — used effectively — they can help uncover and define trends in order to meet customer expectations. In fact, more than 40 percent of young, mobile consumers are interested in sharing information in order to get more value from the retail brands they prefer. You only need to look at past holiday fiascos to know which retailers didn’t listen and didn’t optimize inventory — and were skewered in the social court of public opinion as a result. With access to the data and analysis tools we have today, there’s no excuse for ignoring the customer.

Retail’s positive impact
Like any good ship, the most successful retailers of 2012 have adventurous but responsible captains that rally the team, push the crew to look for new and innovative ways to reach the end goal and keep an eye on financial health. As my SAP colleague Michael Schulze has observed, financial concerns and risk management are top of mind right now. Retail is one of the four key economic indicators — and the stronger we become as an industry, the more positive our impact on the global economy.

By embracing retail without boundaries, we can uncover the map that leads to this new world — a world where we have a complete picture of the customer, we can manage the experience from end-to-end and we improve loyalty, sales and revenue. The retailers that can do all this will be the big winners in 2013. Sail on!