Over the past 18 months, Shop.org has thought a lot about organizational structure – particularly, the “digital effect” on retailers and how they are evolving to build a less silo-ed team around a multichannel retail model. Achieving this transformation touches several operational aspects. But the most fundamental element to organizational change is, of course, the people.

In its “Open Letter to Retail CEOs,” the Shop.org Think Tank stresses that ever-rising customer expectations require retailers to become as much technology experts as they are merchandising and marketing experts. This puts the onus on retail teams as a whole to become more “digitally fluent” in order to understand and meet customer’s expectations who are already digitally-savvy.

The greatest hurdle? There simply aren’t enough individuals with a deep digital understanding to go around. To overcome this, the Think Tank suggests that we’re going to need to better leverage experts in the industry today and invest in bringing in new talent who don’t already have a retail background.

Better leverage your in-house digital talent. Most retailers have developed talent from within to grow the e-commerce side of their business. Now we’re starting to see some companies think about how that in-house expertise can benefit the organization more broadly. For example, companies such as Sephora and Walgreens have promoted their respective heads of e-commerce to take on the CMO role. Recently, Neiman Marcus started the process of integrating its traditional and online merchandising teams.

The next step for retailers is to spread those who have digital experience out to other departments – to store operations, IT, HR, finance, supply chain and more. This unification of digital and functional experts will enable other parts of the organization to become more digitally fluent, while also teaching these digital evangelists more about core areas of the business.

Bring in digital talent from outside the retail industry. Retailers would be remiss not tapping in to the talent pool in the tech sector, many of whom specialize in areas that retail needs more expertise, such as cloud computing and analytics. The retail industry is indisputably in the midst of significant evolution – a definite plus in catching the eye of digital veterans. But convincing these individuals to start a career in retail will take a sustained commitment CEOs and the senior leadership team. They must convey that digital opportunities aren’t limited to Silicon Valley, and the retail work environment is dynamic, flexible and rewarding. To be successful, retailers must be able to deliver on the promise of an exciting career that gives digital veterans a chance to make a big impact and drive significant change both in the company and industry as a whole.

Getting everyone “digitally fluent” in the organization will be time-consuming, even distinctly uncomfortable at times. However, if senior leadership teams at retailers don’t take this challenge head on, they will be simply become increasingly less relevant to their customers, risking the company’s future overall.

For the full Think Tank analysis, please see “Open Letter to Retail CEOs: Is your talent mix right? The future of your business depends on it” on the Shop.org site.

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It’s not common knowledge, but the retail industry employs more engineers than Silicon Valley. While this stat might shock those outside of the industry, key e-commerce players like Gilt, Zappos and Indochino have been building up their tech talent for years.

The technology department is one of the largest at Indochino with more than a dozen full-time engineers. These engineers are responsible for developing the e-commerce platform, building the mobile apps that power the in-store experience, and creating the systems and processes that create patterns, manage partners, and assess quality.

In conjunction with the release of our This is Retail feature on the role of technology in creating a unique, seamless customer experience at Indochino, I took a few minutes to talk with one of their software engineers, Patrick Lawrence, about his career as a backend developer and what he really does all day in the retail tech atmosphere.

You’ve worked for several different industries throughout your career in software development. What’s the best part (or most surprising part) of working for a retail brand like Indochino?

I was actually a bit hesitant joining Indochino. I wondered why an online retailer needed a large development team. But once I spoke with the CTO about what Indochino engineers were doing, and what their plans were for the future, I started to look at the company in different light. Indochino is a tech company applying its products to retail rather than being a retailer that requires technology to sell products. That was a big surprise – and also the reason I ended up joining.

Describe the coolest project you’ve worked on so far at Indochino.

A surprisingly cool project we did recently was in automating our shipping process. The biggest challenge was in logistics. We needed a simple way to get all the information about an order to FedEx. We came up with the solution of creating unique barcodes for each package. To do that, we engineered some scanning software that interfaced with the FedEx system to automatically sync our data with their API. The best part of the task was tweaking the scanning hardware – it shows how we’re willing to build our own technology to create elegant solutions.

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Indochino Software Engineer Patrick Lawrence

Men’s fashion is one of the hottest segments in retail today. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the Indochino customer through your work in software development?

The Indochino customer has grown as the company’s grown. At first he was the man in his twenties looking to buy his first suit – maybe he had a wedding to attend or was finishing at a University. I was that young man when I bought my first Indochino suit – yep, I was already an Indochino customer when I joined the team. As the company and the products have matured, our customers have grown up with us. Indochino’s customer today is a bit older and more established – someone that wears a suit to work most days rather than just at the occasional event.

How closely do mobile analytics drive projects in development?

Mobile users are drastically different than PC users. Their attention span tends to be lower because they are often engaged in other activities — so you need to grab their attention quickly. Many of our email click throughs are from mobile devices, so it becomes important to ensure the pages they land on have really polished responsive design. In short, pretty closely!

In three words, describe the perfect retail tech team.

Intelligent, responsive, handsome, dangerous, mysterious, cooperative, thoughtful – and unable to count to three.

Gotta ask: hoodie or three piece suit?

Totally a hoodie guy.

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The retail industry has added more than 200,000 jobs over the past year, but – despite the popular image of the industry – 44 percent of retail employees do not work in a sales position.

44% of retail employees do not work in a sales position.So, what are those jobs, you ask? Here are the five in-demand digital positions available in retail (and on the NRF job board), along with a breakdown of what “the job” and “the hire” both have to offer:

1. Engineers (mobile, front end, software, and systems developers)

The job is the engine of a well-oiled machine as retailers create a seamless online and mobile customer experience. System engineers keep daily system operations running smoothly. Mobile engineers help consumers use their smartphones and tablets to shop on the go with ease, while front end and software engineers create new tools to improve the user experience.

The hire is someone who is both business-savvy and “passionate about build, test, and automation tools and infrastructure,” according to Urban Outfitters. Consider one of these positions if you hold a degree in computer science or engineering, and your favorite childhood toy was a Rubik’s cube.

2. Digital marketing/e-commerce managers

The job answers what all retailers want to know: “How can I connect with customers online and get them to purchase my goods or services?” Digital marketing and e-commerce managers develop new strategies and campaigns to generate revenue from web and mobile based on consumer buying habits and behavior.

The hire needs to be flexible, innovative and have mind-reading abilities. Digital marketers must know what the customer wants, sometimes even before the customer does. Consider this position if you hold a degree in marketing, communications, business, or engineering and read Mashable and Fast Company daily.

3. Data analysts and scientists

The job uses research, data and statistics to help retailers implement a successful strategy. As Rue La La puts it, “the data analyst will help understand our past performance and shape future decisions.”

The retail industry employs 20,000 computer programmers and software developers.The hire should be a little bit techie, a little bit creative genius. Retailers are particularly drawn to candidates who demonstrate that they have a business mind that complements their technical skills. Consider this position if you hold a degree in business, psychology, computer science or economics and you look forward to Pi Day each year.

4. Site design and usability specialist

The job creates the look, feel and functionality of a retailer’s website or mobile app by developing easy-to-use site navigation from page layout to color scheme and graphics.

The hire should be a hybrid of a visual merchandiser and engineer. Designers understand how customer behaviors affect website performance and identify how they can drive specific actions– like hitting the “checkout” button. Consider this position if you hold a degree in engineering, graphic design, advertising or merchandising, and love to use Photoshop for more than editing “selfies.”

5. Social media, email and search analysts

These jobs are certainly tweet-worthy. Social media, email and search analysts match the right audiences to the right messages through the right channels, whether it’s a Facebook post, email promotion or mobile search.

The hire must be a tech-savvy web junkie with at least 1,000 Twitter followers (#justkidding) who’s a master of the art of engagement and information sharing. Consider this position if you hold a degree in communications, public relations or marketing and you check your Twitter analytics more often than you call your mom.

You might notice that these hot jobs have something in common: A degree in retail isn’t a requirement. The Ray Greenly Scholarship offers opportunities for students – in any major – who want to learn more about digital retail. These creative, entrepreneurial students are the future of retail; they just might not know it yet.

Like many other opportunities in the retail industry, this scholarship pays big, offering $25,000 to a top recipient, $10,000 each to four other finalists, and $2,500 travel stipends to attend the Shop.org Summit. The deadline to apply is May 16. Learn more or share this opportunity with a student you know.

What’s missing from this list? We’d love your thoughts and feedback. Share your “must hire” jobs with us.

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With a tough winter loosening its grip, spring has never felt so good – and Easter shoppers are ready to celebrate. According to NRF’s Easter consumer survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, 19 percent of consumers anticipate making some portion of their Easter purchases online, roughly in line with 21 percent who said so last year.

One in four of these online Easter shoppers expect to spend more this year than last, while 63 percent anticipate spending about the same as last year. Online Easter shoppers expect to spend an average of $225, or 64 percent more than Easter shoppers overall. Here’s a breakdown of planned purchases:

  • Food – $58.11
  • Clothing – $39.49
  • Gifts – $37.85
  • Candy – $27.65
  • Decorations – $19.35
  • Flowers – $17.87
  • Greeting Cards – $9.60
  • Other items – $15.71

With Easter weekend just around the corner, retailers should capitalize on this shopping occasion by focusing on improving these areas:

Bind together customer touch points: Start with the basics. According to Accenture, half of consumers are imploring retailers to better integrate in-store, online and mobile shopping channels. Online Easter shoppers are among those expecting a seamless shopping experience. Nearly one-third of those surveyed said they plan to use their smartphones to look up retailer information such as store hours and directions. Retailers should ensure that their smartphone home screen points customers directly to these basic functions and do not hide them behind cryptic icons or buried in a menu.

Ensure Easter-themed marketing emails are optimized for mobile. Moveable Ink concluded that U.S. consumers opened 65 percent of marketing emails on mobile devices during the fourth quarter of last year, with nearly half of those opened on smartphones. As obvious as it sounds, retailers are still working on how to optimize emails for the smartphone, from basic optimization to where links take viewers — hopefully not to the desktop site.

Tablet testing: Invest in optimizing and testing the experience. Over half of online Easter shoppers who own a tablet plan to use the device to research products and compare prices, and 47 percent expect to purchase products directly on their tablets. The problem: tablet experiences may fall short of customer expectations. Keynote found that the same four-step test transaction during the 2013 holiday season took a “snappy” 22.8 seconds to complete on desktop, compared with 32.1 seconds on a smartphone and more than a minute on a tablet. An over-reliance on existing desktop sites in lieu of truly tablet-optimized sites can be to blame. Without adequate tablet optimization and testing, retailers are likely to turn off customers with a sub-par experience, risking immediate and longer term purchases and customer satisfaction.

Effectively market inventory availability and click-and-collect services. As Accenture and Hybris found recently, almost seven in 10 consumers said in-store inventory availability was “critical,” while half also want to be able to pick up their online order right in the store. This means retailers need to think about in-store services that smartphone customers want to know about even before they set foot in the store. The same study found that just one-third of retailers offer these services, ceding significant competitive advantage to retailers who have invested in these areas – and therefore they should also be clearly featured on smartphone and tablet sites.

The full results of the 2014 Easter Online Consumer Shopping Outlook survey are available on the Shop.org site. For more ideas on planning for Easter and other upcoming shopping occasions such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, download the 2014 Spring Planning Guide: Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

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We’ve heard all kinds of metaphors to refer to “mobile” – everything from “glue” and “electricity” to “connective tissue.” Whichever works for you, the point is that in just a few years, mobile devices have become a fixture in our lives. The latest Shop.org Snapshot showcases data from Prosper Insights and Analytics that underscores just how important mobile devices are for shopping.

Just how pervasive is mobile shopping? Goldman Sachs projects that U.S. retail sales directly on smartphones will more than double from $70 billion this year to $173 billion by 2018. Similarly, tablet sales will more than triple from $130 billion this year to $453 billion in 2018.

Shop-org Snapshot - In-store Mobile 300px

Download the Shop.org Snapshot

Looking at how U.S. adult consumers of all ages already use these devices in their life generally as well as to shop, the numbers provide some interesting insights.

  • Among U.S. smartphone users, approximately half have consulted their phones to find store information such as location and hours.
  • Half as many again tap their smartphone when they’re browsing or looking for a product or service.
  • And while 37 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds have actually purchased a product on their smartphone, so have 29 percent of smartphone users 35-54 and 14 percent of those over 55.

These are still the early days of mobile in many respects, and we anticipate purchasing on mobile devices to become increasingly mainstream. Tablet purchases are already well established for a third of those 18-34 and nearly the same for those 55 and older. Americans  in the middle of these age ranges are currently leading at 43 percent.

For retailers, a huge opportunity exists in how consumers use their mobile devices while they’re in the store. Research shows half of shoppers regularly or occasionally read product reviews to decide between products, and almost as many have “checked in” for a discount and to request a price match. The report explores how likely consumers are to buy on the spot compared with later, and whether they buy from the same retailer or a competitor.

So what should retailers do this year to capture a share of these opportunities on mobile? More than half the retailers we surveyed named mobile as one of their top three initiatives for 2014. They certainly have their work cut out for them.

Among other areas, we recommend that retailers focus this year on:

Optimizing the tablet experience. Keynote found that a test transaction on a tablet device during Holiday 2013 on average took almost three times longer to complete on a tablet than a desktop device. Pushing a desktop optimized site to a tablet experience simply won’t cut it. Retailers need to invest in this area or risk chances of the associated revenue and customer engagement.

Connecting stores with mobile marketing. Using SMS to offer coupons to drive store traffic has met with success in tests by companies like Staples and Ace Hardware. Mobile ads can be tricky – consumers don’t want ads that are intrusive, irrelevant to them or simply overabundant. Voice recognition-enabled ads, like those running on NPR’s smartphone app this week, is one thing to watch.

Marketing customer “must have” services such as inventory stock availability. A recent study by Hybris found almost three-quarters of shoppers rate inventory visibility as “critical to their purchase decisions. If your company is one of the 32 percent of companies according to Hybris that actually offer this service, that’s a significant competitive offering that is likely to get the customer’s attention.

Shop.org members can download the new Smartphone and Tablet Shopping Snapshot to glean further data and insights into how consumers use their smartphones and tablets to shop now.

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