Is Digital Transformation working in the Path-To-Purchase Journey? – Part 2

In our previous blog post, we spoke about the digital disruption of the path-to-purchase journey and how technology is affecting the way in which retailers operate, allowing customers to interact online, in-store, in-app, on-phone, in the cloud and via social media. However, the surprising fact is that in spite of the omni-channel retail experience being the strategic focus for many retailers, a large percentage of shoppers – particularly women and millennials still want an in-store experience. This is because women view shopping as a leisure activity for the purpose of entertainment and fulfillment besides need and utility, while millennial consumers want a touch-and-feel experience while they shop along with an equal affinity towards digital. EKN data shows that 75% millennials shop online and two-thirds shop in-store at least once per month. This shows that both digital and in-store affinity is prevalent among millennials. EKN’s Framework for Omni-channel Personalization data shows that 86 percent of consumers will pay up to 25 percent more for a better customer experience. But are retailers adopting the right measures to enrich the shopping experience for customers? Fortunately, the amalgamation of retail and technology has been an effective and positive one, and retailers are integrating innovative digital experiences at their physical outlets with the presence of digitized kiosks, touch screen navigation panels, interactive digital displays and other digital tools to ensure an engaging in-store experience. According to a survey carried out by Samsung, 94 percent of retailers believe the customer of the future will be driven by technology and 41 percent are already using it to implement a strategy to enhance the customer experience to... read more

Is Digital Transformation working in the Path-To-Purchase Journey? – Part 1

It is a well known fact that the emergence of online shopping has drastically changed the way we shop and besides brick and mortal stores, online shopping plays a very important role for every brand. But, is digital transformation based on what customers expect from companies or is it based on a tunnel vision of re-producing experiences that may not be relevant to the core customer base? EKN’s 2016 Profitable Omnichannel execution data indicates that only a third of retailers ‘occasionally” consider the customer perspective in devising omnichannel strategies. In today’s digitally connected age, it is a well-established fact that the internet has become an essential part of the path-to-purchase process irrespective of whether the purchase is made online or in a store. Social media is a large influencing factor for customers to make a purchase. From traditional modes of marketing and advertising on television, radio and print media, the path-to-purchase process has now undergone a digital disruption. Such a process often relies on pre-shopping activities like searching for products online, reading their reviews on blogs, forums and shopping websites and comparing them with other products available. The actual shopping transaction may be in store or via online shopping and the post-shopping activity consists of word-of-mouth recommendations, online reviews and social media posts. Thus, the process of buying has now become a merger of various online and offline activities. Shoppers can be categorized into three segments – ones who prefer shopping in physical stores, ones who prefer shopping online and ones that prefer shopping on both channels. Thus, retailers need to keep all three types of customers in mind.... read more

2016 Wrap-Up & 2017 Retail Industry Outlook

While 2016 was a pretty good year for US retail, for most retailers a repeat of 2016 growth will be not be easy replicate in 2017. After all, it is a transition year and as new economic and fiscal policies get activated, some amount of business and consumer spending uncertainty is expected. The good news is that a relatively healthy GDP over the last couple of quarters and a largely stable housing market certainly bodes well for retailers early in the year. The key for retailers is to make sure that they absorb the policy change impact in the front half of the year without inflicting too much self-damage. Registering a bumper back half of the year through faster consolidation and slick execution is a must i.e. a robust Q3 & Q4 growth plan through proper customer segmentation, new product introduction and sound execution plans. Humbly stated, my own fiscal round-up for US retail in 2016 indicates medium to strong fundamentals across a majority of retail concepts or segments. According to U.S. Census Bureau’s latest reported retail sales data total US retail sales from September 2016 through November 2016 were up 3.7 percent from the same period a year ago. The 11-month non-adjusted total retail and food services sales were up 3.1 percent from the same period a year ago. While electronic, gasoline, general merchandise and department stores showed clear signs of a sizeable slump in comp sales; other store retailers including DIY/building materials, drug, and furniture reported healthy positive sales comps when compared to 2015. As expected, within the eCommerce channel, retailers saw the biggest gains as the... read more

Improving Store Labor Standards: A Key Ingredient for Successful Store Execution

While the chorus around omnichannel and digital commerce’s growing impact and the need to transform stores becomes louder every day, retailers need to account for how these changes affect the work associates perform and the store’s labor budget. The reality is that a majority of retailers are unsure of how to upgrade labor standards and labor hours for maximizing store productivity and ensuring smooth operations. Labor standards are defined as the average amount of time it takes for store associates and managers to complete customer service, sales and operational tasks in the store. Retailers use a varied set of sales, customer service and operational labor standards for day-to-day store execution. In order to achieve consistent store execution, retailers need to ensure that all these standards are always in line with constantly evolving customer expectations, labor regulations and related store labor policies/procedures. Effective labor standards and related standard operating procedures (SOPs) in the stores include accurate labor planning for all tasks, performance evaluation, insights for operational improvements and cost minimization and above all documentation of the best methods. EKN recently conducted a survey of 63 US retailers and spoke to several softlines and hardlines retail executives to understand their viewpoint on this key retail store execution area. The general consensus is that labor standards are not well documented or updated effectively within the retail organization. In fact, nearly two-thirds of retailers (64%) update labor standards and labor hour models infrequently- range from quarterly, annual or on an ad-hoc basis. Another major business pain that retailers are experiencing is the lack of proper organizational management and consensus on issues related to... read more

Lack of a Demand-Centric Pricing Strategy is a Big Stumbling Block for Retailers

Best-in-Class retailers are responding to competitors including the likes of Amazon by undertaking price changes in close to real-time by using advanced competitive pricing analytics, price elasticity analysis and in some cases even using smart shelves for real-time dynamic pricing updates. Dynamic pricing takes a consumer’s perceived ability to pay for a product. On the other end of the spectrum, most other retailers are facing the wrath of unrelenting promotional pricing pressures and sub-optimal markdowns that are hurting operating profit and margin. Lack of optimization and dynamic approaches in pricing, promotions and markdowns gets translated into loss in operating profit, gross margin and inventory turns. Despite having the knowledge that effective pricing and promotions is the key to remain competitive, both large (turnover over $1 bn.), and mid-market retailers (turnover between $100 mn. and $1 bn.), have faced challenges in such implementations. EKN surveyed 105 softlines and hardlines retailers in November 2016 of which the larger retailers highlighted the top 2 challenges as (1) lack of actionable pricing & promotion analytics to drive profitable decisions and (2) inability to measure pricing or promotion effectiveness and financial impact. For mid-market retailers, the main challenges faced are (1) increased vendor costs and ineffective vendor negotiations and (2) inability to connect pricing, promotions and markdown approach to a company strategy. It is quite evident that large and mid-market retailers are struggling to connect the dots between pricing and promotion effectiveness and profitability. Is a more dynamic pricing approach the answer to the retailers’ problems? Retailers have tried to adapt themselves in this dynamic environment by resorting to frequent in-store price-related changes which... read more

Global Sourcing Uncertainties Continue Amid Brexit, Commodities Market Slump and Currency Fluctuations, Reports CBX Q3’16 Retail Sourcing Study

The continued uncertainty in Europe over Brexit, rising wage pressures in low cost sourcing countries, low commodity prices, weak freight transit  and major currency fluctuations are shaping a rather grim sourcing and supply chain outlook, according to CBX’s Q3 2016 retail sourcing report. In fact, the aforementioned results are in line with EKN’s own Q2 2016 retail private label sourcing study that indicates significant headwinds being felt by retailers in terms lack of speed to market, global commodity price sensitivity, high merchandise unit costs, among other business pressures. While other uncertainties across economic indicators, manufacturing activity, currencies, transit and commodities are evident, CBX’s report indicates that Brexit’s true impact will play out in the next two years. It remains to be seen how Brexit will impact retailers and their trading partners that do multi-country sourcing or deal in trading with or through UK and other European countries. The report provides useful synthesis of varied economic and supply chain indicators that can impact overall retail branding and private label private sourcing. The data has some particularly useful insights and implications for apparel, fashion, specialty and other softlines companies that source products from low-cost international countries through their own buying offices or agents. Nearly 1 in 2 retailers (45%) source through their own international operations or buying agents like Li & Fung1. Among the top 8 global sourcing impact points covered in CBX’s report, most do not indicate a positive Q2 performance. Moreover the outlook towards forward looking macro-economic measures (i.e. infrastructure, labor etc.), manufacturing indices and freight demand scenarios do not seem that positive either, except for a handful of... read more

Key Trends & Challenges Impacting Private Label Retail

Retailers who sell private label products as part of their assortment-mix today have a reason to fear Amazon’s entry into private label assortments or collections. It has increased the threat of further online competition. EKN’s 2016 Private Label Sourcing survey (in partnership with CBX) of 50 North American retailers has revealed that compared to 2014 or prior, retailers are giving higher importance to private label brands for their top line and bottom line net earnings. Taking into account the threat from the likes of Amazon and an already high forecast growth within eCommerce and mobile channels till 2018 (14.5% & 29.4% CAGR, respectively¹), omnichannel operations is the top trend shaping the state of private label brands especially in the area of strategic private label sourcing and product development. Private label is no longer a store phenomenon and moving forward retailers fully expect private label categories to grow in the physical-digital domain. The second biggest trend impacting private label brands, sourcing and development is new consumer demand. These new consumer demand patterns are as much about growing private label demand as it is about growth in main street retail, subscription retail and food retailing in formerly non-food stores (i.e. drug). Price sensitivity is definitely increasing as there is an increase in off-price stores emerging in luxury categories. Retailers are well aware that the price sensitive consumer cares a lot about private label or store brands. Within private label, sales reached $118.4 billion in 2015, an all-time record and an increase of +$2.2 billion over the previous year. In the past two years alone, annual sales are up by +5%, or +$5.4... read more

Toshiba’s Bigger and Better User Show in 2016

This year’s ‘Toshiba Connect’ was held in Las Vegas and dare I say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas! In fact, it will be quite the opposite for Toshiba and its customers in 2016 as there are a slew of new strategies and capabilities that are waiting to make their mark in retail and other industries. Store and point-of-sale (POS) re-investments, customer personalization, digital consumer experiences, payments and evolution of omnichannel were the main strategy areas and collaborative themes led by Toshiba, retailers, media and analysts that spurred discussion and discourse during the conference. Toshiba executives Scott Maccabe, Bill Melo, Michael Griffiths and a few others laid out the key mission focusing on Enriched Shopping, Actionable Insights and Frictionless Checkout, as well as the strategy and solution roadmap for Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions in the aforementioned areas. Customer executives from Safeway, Kroger, Brookstone, PVH and other retailers provided a promising view of their retail growth and customer experience innovation taking place today. However, large U.S. retail executives also went on the record discussing their challenges in meeting the October 2015 EMV deadline. A number of retailers spoke at length about the lack of clarity around industry standards for seamless ‘chip & signature’ POS pin-pad migrations. Retailers have experienced various concerns related to customer experience issues, 30%-50% longer transaction time, deployment delays, system testing, continued data security concerns and store employee training complexities. EKN’s February 2015 POS Blueprint study showed that 7 out of 10 retailers were ill-equipped to roll out chip & signature-ready terminals by the October 2015. The Toshiba partner ecosystem also had a lot more depth... read more

Retail Enterprise Agility: A Necessary Step for Future of Retail

Within most softlines, grocery and hardlines retail segments, the need for enterprise agility and speed to market has often been talked about in terms of response time of store, headquarter or supply chain teams to align with current and emerging market and consumer trends. Agility in retail can translate into initiatives including but not limited to rolling out new channels/stores, new product introduction, marketing, content and technology innovation that improves customer experience or operational efficiencies. Retail enterprise agility is not just about quick decision-making and resource allocation but also enabling improved sales, cash-to-cash cycle time and product lead time attainment. It requires collaboration and common workflows at the product and customer-programs level between stores, digital teams, merchandise planning, sourcing, product development, marketing, IT, business intelligence and supply chain visibility and collaboration. While agility in the product value chain must conform to seamless movement of product from concept-shelf, creating deeper customer connectivity, engagement and personalization during the customer path-to-purchase journey, requires retailers to demonstrate consistent dedication, commitment and a steady flow of investments in ensuring customer-facing digital transformation. Digital thinking, data insights and customer science is inherent in such a transformation and no department or channel in retail can be devoid of essential building blocks such as access to real-time digital data, digital device-based insights & accessibility and workflows enabled on digital assets. The simplest example of the ROI waiting to be gained from such a transformation is in the ease of doing day-to-day business in a store. Retail store associates or managers should not have to pace back-and-forth between the back office and the customer front-end every time they... read more

How to Re-Activate Current Loyalty Programs to Bring Alive Loyalty

In this age of well-informed, technology-savvy, connected consumer, is customer loyalty dead? An EKN survey (EKN 2014 Next Generation Shopper Experience: A Millennial Consumer Perspective) shows that the customers, especially the millennials, are willing to spend additionally upto 30% over the same period in case they get a great shopping experience. EKN’s analysis shows that the same customers sometimes defect their loyal brand in search of better prices and convenience. Retention had never been so difficult. So how exactly then a retailer claims to retain a loyal customer base when the customer’s behavior suggests otherwise. One needs to figure out the good that the existing retail loyalty programs are doing for the business except for providing a momentarily transaction-based attraction for customers. It is interesting to find that many retailers run these contests amongst their employees in store in return of incentives, to get the maximum no. of registrations for their loyalty program. Does the buck stop here? No, we believe, it is equally critical for retailers to ensure the subscribed customers make use of the program consistently and this can only happen when customers realize the associated far-reaching rewards than mere transactional benefits. This notion ties back to the concept of customer lifecycle value, one of those metrics which has seen most retailers struggling with. Measuring customer’s lifecycle value considers into account a more holistic view of the value derived from the customers over the period and thus challenges the retailers’ myopic view in executing a transactional loyalty program. The concern mentioned above is applicable to most retailers irrespective of their format, segment and size. Key issues that... read more