In this episode of Emissary Live, we spoke with Jonathan, former Senior Vice President of Global IT Infrastructure at Ralph Lauren, to understand how vendors can set themselves apart in the fast-changing world of retail.

Four main takeaways from the panel:

  • Many retail organizations are caught in a tension between two worlds – an old world of customized solutions that have been in place for some time, and the new world where constant change and agility are necessary. Anything you can do to ease that transition has value.
  • Data is incredibly important in retail, and organizations are looking for ways to leverage data to serve both customers and their business while maintaining data security and protecting against data breaches.
  • Retailers need to see examples and facts that back up your value proposition, as well as proof that you understand their business by making these examples specific to them.
  • Be clear about your ROI and understand that due to a common focus on cost limitation throughout the retail industry, many retailers will want to see ROI within one year.

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Panel Discussion Highlights

Q:

What would you call out as some of the biggest changes that you observed during your time in leadership at such a global brand? What did you see really change over the five years that you spent at Ralph Lauren?

A:

The thing that I really saw was that, especially for established retail, you’re living with a lot of the old technologies that are embedded, that have been customized, highly customized, and they’re very difficult to change, and you’re living in a world that’s moving fast and faster, and you want to be able to change quick. So, you have this dichotomy between the old world, which is more of a waterfall, slow-moving change world, and the dev ops agile world, which is quick to change. And I’d say that if anything it’s accelerating more and more. 

I think that journey is really shifting toward the cloud for a lot of reasons, and I think the biggest reason is it’s a central, easy place for you to leverage a lot of the new services, to take data that is usable and turn it into something that relates to the customer so you can actually sell better, or relates to your inventory so it allows you to understand where you have what, so that way you can, again, sell better. It all comes back to the customer and the speed you can react to that customer. And I think that’s really the shift I see going on.

Q:

 What would you say to solutions providers and technology vendors so that they can hit this message and show retailers that they can empower their organization with technology, but also not be generic with their messaging?

A:

Great question. I think the message has to be, in my opinion, one that has examples and facts that show that fighting the wave you’ll lose, going with it you’ll win. I think in addition, helping a company focus on the fact that their competitive advantage is not going to be, and this is my opinion, is not going to be just the technology. It’s going to be what it is that you do that’s different that makes you strategically unique so you’re not a commodity to sell to the customer.

So, the question is, “Okay, well is it the technology that makes you strategically unique? Is it your brand? Is it the product that you sell? Is it a combination of those?” I think helping them understand what it is that really makes them unique and talking about that, and talking about the technology as a vehicle to help magnify the thing that makes them strategically unique is the way to go.

Q:

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts regarding retail as far as anything that you think retail is missing at the moment. Are there any thoughts that you have about what is an area in retail technologically where there’s a ton of potential because they’ve only just begun, or haven’t yet begun to explore it?

A:

On-premise solutions will absolutely be shifting to the cloud. It’s just a matter of time. What’ll shift? Networks that are currently corporate perimeter centric will shift to be cloud centric. Those things are happening now, and with the advent of things like 5G as an example, it’s just going to accelerate it.

What should change? Security. Security right now in retail is not viewed as an enabler. It’s viewed as an obstacle. It has to shift to be viewed as an enabler. I think that the messaging and the tools themselves have to really shift the message to “We’re going to enable you and keep it secure.” I think one of the biggest obstacles to getting technology into retail is security because the messaging is “Hold on, stop,” instead of “Hey, let me help you accelerate.” This needs to change.

Q:

What from your perspective is missing from vendors’ understanding of retail? Where are technologists missing the mark within retail, and how do you think they can service that industry more effectively?

A:

I think a lot of times when I have people selling to me, they’re selling the benefits of their product, and they’re focused on their product. They’re not focused on the customer that I’m selling to. So, in my mind you have to be a little less product egocentric and say “Okay, I understand your customer.” And then, shape your selling toward the customer of Ralph Lauren or any other company, not focusing so much on how great my product is, but how my product is going to help you with your particular brand, or marketing, specific to Ralph Lauren. 

Just like we’re talking about how you want a bespoke solution for your customer, well you want someone coming in to tell something that is going to be focused on your culture, on your products, on your strategy, not on the product that you’re selling’s strategy.

If you’re interested in honing your approach to the retail industry, insights from industry experts like Jonathan can give you the edge you need to provide value amid the rapid evolution and acceleration that retailers are experiencing. To connect with Jonathan or one of the thousands of other advisors in our network from Fortune 1000 firms, contact us here.