Digital transformation for the retail CIO: Connecting digital with physical

By Bruce Richards, Senior Industry Marketing Manager – Retail & Consumer Goods, Adobe,

Digital is certainly disrupting retail. Today’s shoppers are multichannel, and they expect amazing experiences as they move through the web and apps on their mobile devices for the shopping journey. Add to that a slew of options on where to buy and whom to buy from, and it’s easy to see that in order to build customer loyalty, retailers need to create experiences that stand out.

But if all you’re thinking about is digital, you aren’t thinking big enough. The successful retail CIOs are finding exciting new ways to connect digital and physical shopping experiences.

Retail CIOs are on the hook for enabling customer experience innovation, which means building a foundation for customer experience management (CXM) and investing in the right technologies and solutions to support it. And CXM isn’t just a digital strategy — it needs to be part of your brick-and-mortar strategy too.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for success, there are some emerging best practices that can help you design amazing shopping experiences that bridge the digital and physical worlds. Here are three of them.

1. Hire a CDO

The role of chief digital officer/chief data officer (CDO) is still relatively new — most CDOs have been hired in the past three years — and the job is evolving. However, 82% of CIOs believe there’s a compelling case to hire a CDO. At organizations where commerce comes into play, such as in the retail space, CDOs are what’s next.

Indeed, CDOs bridge all the functions, including marketing, strategy, e-commerce, and IT, that have to work together to deliver exceptional shopping experiences. Perhaps more than any other member of the C-suite, your CDO must focus relentlessly on understanding your customers’ current behavior and anticipating their future needs and expectations, and then use those insights to shape business strategy and technology decisions.

CDOs are often responsible for experimenting with digital tools that drive growth and efficiency (such as programmatic media buying) and transforming the customer experience (such as mobile apps that improve the in-store shopping experience).

2. Bring digital experiences into your physical stores

Storefronts and current technology systems are often disconnected, and information exists in silos. As CIO, you must be agile and adaptable as you deploy technology solutions in a world that is always changing and increasingly calling for digital experiences in a physical space.

Most major retailers already offer customers the option to buy online and pick up in store (BOPIS) and we’re starting to see many retailers adopt in-store technology options that enhance the overall in-store shopping experience when 18.5 per cent of the nation’s economy is obtained through and eight per cent was made via e-commerce[1].

These solutions address inventory and product availability, helping customers find the product they want, even if it’s out of stock in their store. Customer can seamlessly shop online from a desktop, mobile device or at a physical store.

3. Make it happen with mobile and AI

There’s no question that mobile devices are key to connecting physical and digital experiences. With Malaysia being a mobile-first nation with 88 per cent smartphone ownership, people are looking forward to how the fifth generation of mobile Internet connectivity will affect their lifestyle. From synchronised grocery shopping lists, self-checkout, and mobile wallets to item locators and in-store delivery of targeted online content, mobile continues to revolutionize how retailers like you engage customers.

Nearly half of retail CEOs have listed in-store mobile experiences as a top priority for the coming fiscal year. Despite clear benefits in adopting the technology, only 26% of organizations in Malaysia today have embarked on their AI journeys.[2]

Augmented reality (AR) is a mobile tech category every retail CIO should be exploring. Customers can point their phone camera at a corner of their living room and then drop a true-to-scale 3D image of a comfy chair into the scene — no measuring tape required. Mobile app development is the remit of the CIO, especially since there’s a direct correlation between an organization’s mobile maturity and its profitability. In the retail space, an app is a really important driver of commerce, one that’s growing in importance as revenue from mobile continues to climb.

Don’t forget about the power of artificial intelligence. AI helps retailers quickly process mountains of data to find insights and make decisions to personalize shopping experiences. Examples include in-store robotic assistants and digital touch panels that can help customers locate an item, and chatbots that answer questions, offer suggestions, and provide timely support.

Business leaders who are adopting AI face three top challenges a lack of thought leadership and leadership commitment to invest in AI; lack of skills, resources and continuous learning programs and lack of advanced analytics or adequate infrastructure and tools to develop actionable insights.

A slew of emerging technologies is helping to promote business agility and innovation in the development of mobile apps. If you’re not already doing so, now is a good time to explore how you might use container technology, to design, deliver, and manage mobile apps for your customers and your employees.

This journey starts at the top. As your CIO position transforms from a tech seeker to a customer experience innovator, your entire organization will enter a new phase of success.


[1] Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2018

[2] Artificial Intelligence to nearly double the rate of innovation in Malaysia by 2021: Microsoft Study, Microsoft and IDC, 2 April 2019

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