VRP Blog

Blog: Retail Is No Solo Game

June 07, 2023  |  REINT JAN HOLTERMAN

“No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” These famous words come from Reid Hoffman, co-founder and previous CEO of LinkedIn. To me, this one-liner illustrates the importance of working as a team towards a common goal, not only within the own organization, but also in a broader sense with customers and business partners.

The current pace of innovation is so high that it is not doable for a single company to stay ahead of the game. The lack of funds to invest in new business initiatives, the bandwidth to expand into new markets, the knowledge to develop cutting-edge technologies – as a solo player, it is impossible to cope with all these. And if you try, you’ll find it will dramatically slow down speed to market and increase your TCO.

Ecosystem thinking…
McKinsey defines an ecosystem as ‘an interconnected set of products and services through which customers can fulfill a variety of needs in one integrated experience.’ The actual value creation lies in the connection with the customer, which in turn is based on engagements along the customer journey supported by rich, data-enabled experiences. An orchestrated flow of engagements (or customer interactions) can only happen if the entire ecosystem – people, touchpoints, and underlying systems – act as one by exchanging data on previous journey steps, product characteristics, purchase history, pricing and loyalty schemes, and customer data, preferably in real time.

…and Retail
This ecosystem thinking is particularly relevant for Retail. If there’s one environment where we see many different concepts, store formats, journey types, channels, technologies, and local adaptations come together it is Retail. Some retailers already made great strides in this area. For example, Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize who built an extensive, well-integrated business ecosystem covering business models around food and non-food items using its grocery and convenience stores, food delivery services (FreshDirect), e-commerce channels and online marketplace for non-food items (bol.com). The retailer is also progressing with personalization across food and non-food and with media monetization, thereby relying on its wealth of consumer data, which it collects through its advanced loyalty programs and combination of online and offline shopping journeys.

Start with the end in mind
Nonetheless, for many retailers offering truly integrated, personalized customer journeys across store formats, categories and channels remain a challenge. It all starts with doing some homework and defining the customer experience strategy: defining whom to target and their needs and expectations. As a next step, map the end-to-end customer journey. What stages does a customer go through, from initial awareness up to after-sales service? Which channels and touchpoints are relevant at each stage? What information does the customer need at each stage to proceed to the next one? This journey map will point out which teams or departments are involved, and which underlying software systems. If needed, silos between these need to be torn down first (remember, it’s no solo game) to enable effective collaboration towards a common goal: helping the customer.

Putting all the pieces together!
Once the business part is clear, technology will take over. Data integration is an important step. This requires an open and flexible IT landscape where systems can exchange data, preferably using standardized APIs. And there will be many actors containing pieces of the journey data puzzle: checkout (POS) software, digital receipts, handheld self-scanning solutions, digital loyalty apps, e-commerce sites, replenishment and ordering systems, click and collect applications, and even EV charging stations in front of the store. The data from all these systems will need to be aggregated, analyzed and – if everything works out well – leveraged in real time to have meaningful interactions with the customers while progressing with their shopping journey. And to optimize future engagements, the outcome of each step needs to be measured and carefully analyzed. 

3 words is all it takes…
The software applications that need to be integrated are usually built by different vendors using different technologies. They will be in different phases of their lifecycle: some are brand new, others actively extended with new functionalities, yet others in maintenance mode or even on the list to be sunset. As such, you’d need a highly flexible and open but also modular retail platform that can connect the various systems together and orchestrate the data flows and customer journeys properly.

  • Openness based on standard APIs facilitates integration.

  • Flexibility allows for adaptation and optimization of shopping journeys.

  • Modularity presents the possibility to add new functionalities or gradually phase out some parts of existing systems without having to re-architect or replace the entire IT landscape first.

  • With an open, flexible and modular retail platform, you stay in control, even when new business developments and innovative customer journeys across (sometimes yet unknown) touchpoints emerge fast.

    Win or lose?
    So, how did we get all the way from Reid Hoffman to retail platforms? As stated at the beginning, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team. Let’s make sure you do not end up losing by being locked in to monolithic, proprietary software solutions in your retail business. Opt for modularity and openness as the pillars under your IT strategy, and you’ll end up winning business by outpacing the competition.

    Curious to learn more about our open, modular and cloud-native Vynamic® Retail Platform? Then continue reading at www.dieboldnixdorf.com/vrp for all the details. 

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