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Antidote to Unprecedented Disruption: Digital, Agility

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Author: Chris McComas

May 28, 2020

While the far-reaching effects of the Coronavirus pandemic continue to shock – even as businesses around the world take baby steps toward normalcy – what’s not surprising is the advantage enjoyed by companies that have fully embraced digital technology. It’s also unsurprising that many companies have accelerated their plans to invest in digital. This is one of many takeaways from our recent research on the impact the pandemic has had on businesses and operations.

Seeking to understand concerns and priorities moving forward, we surveyed 1,000 senior managers in North America and the United Kingdom this month across a wide range of verticals. Results between the two geographies were remarkably similar.

A key takeaway in both geos was this: Digital is a business priority. Half of businesses still operating say they will invest in digital as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations with more than 250 employees are even more likely to invest in digital.

The reason is obvious – digital commerce helped stanch the negative flow of sales and revenue from the bottom line in these anything-but-normal times. Brands with mature digital sales channels have been able to sell through the pandemic. Rebound for these companies will be swifter.

The good news is that investing in digital commerce doesn’t require a rip-and-replace investment strategy. Change can be incremental. For instance, we worked with a long-time client that wanted to quickly implement curbside pickup, functionality not yet surfaced in their Salesforce Commerce Cloud platform. We “switched on” the functionality in a matter of weeks and the retailer was offering curbside pickup across more than 400 stores throughout North America.

This is a fairly simplistic example, but a powerful illustration of agility – the key to survival today and tomorrow.

Tapping into an on-demand pool of highly skilled experts gives you access to knowledge and experience beyond your walls – and enables you to sustain a high-performance commerce environment.

Outsourcing

As companies look to amp up agility, many are considering outsourcing IT and marketing functions post-COVID 19. For those that have furloughed staff, outsourcing allows short-term business continuity, while still ensuring agility and performance. Outsourcing system or application management services, for instance, means you can continuously improve your IT environment and that system performance can remain high. If sales shift from in-store to online, a managed services provider (MSP) can ensure you have the power and resources to support a surge in online sales. An unstable digital commerce environment – for many brands, the sole channel through which to drive sales in this climate – could ruin a business, driving customers away forever after bad experiences. Tapping into an on-demand pool of highly skilled experts gives you access to knowledge and experience beyond your walls – and enables you to sustain a high-performance commerce environment.

If you hire internally and there is a second wave in the fall you are back to layoffs. If you grow with an experienced MSP, they can fluctuate service levels with your needs and save you costs and avoid brand damage.

Decision-makers can apply insights from the pandemic to fully embrace, defend, and fund agility measures. This is the catalyst for change, to make structural business changes, with less friction from others within the business. Now is the time to focus on digital technologies, agile operations, and fulfillment efficiencies. No one will know the exact impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior, so businesses need to build a strategy that can adapt instantly. Fundamentally, that means following a digital-first approach – developing the technology and culture to put online first. Those unable to make the shift are unlikely to see the end of 2020.

An evolving technology ecosystem

Today every part of the customer journey – discovery, research, transaction, customer care, loyalty, and advocacy – should be reconsidered digitally. Brands and retailers with a cohesive technology ecosystem to support every touchpoint, each interaction, whether internally or through outsourced partners, are the most likely to thrive.

What this entails is an analysis of the technology underpinning your commerce enterprise. A commerce platform alone will not suffice. There are multiple components that must be brought together, including data technology, marketing platforms, customer relationship management systems, order management technology, warehouse management, hosting, and more.

Consider the challenge of omni-channel. If more eCommerce demand is anticipated, this will increase the load on processes like ship from store, click and collect, and returns, which requires sophisticated logistics, not just in warehouses, but also in-store. Businesses must focus on the systems behind these operations, to really master inventory management and make sure it’s visible to customers. There are modern OMS and distributed order management tools available that can optimize these areas.

Consider, too, the changing role of physical stores. Rather than housing large quantities of products, stores will transition to experience-focused venues or showrooms, relying on eCommerce to fulfill customer purchases. Large general department stores may die. There will be fewer stores and all of them downsized. Even this model will struggle if shoppers are fearful of interacting with staff or being exposed to merchandise others have touched.

Introducing smart, data-driven tools that can work online and in-store to help with fit, styling and comparison analysis will be critical to aligning with future customer expectations. Online and in-store customer data connections will need to be tight. Returns and exchanges must be seamless and customer service will become more important than ever, requiring new levels of data integration so customer service associates can understand products and customers and how to bring the two together. More data, more systems, more expertise will be required. People will follow brands that give them a genuine sense of confidence.

The impact of COVID-19 on businesses has been extreme and will alter customer experience for a long time to come. What you can’t see or anticipate can and will hurt you. Agility is the antidote to unprecedented disruption.

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Inspirational Women: Personal Reflections on My Career

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Author: Jim Butler

March 13, 2021

I owe a big part of my professional growth to women. Over the past 34 years, strong, smart, and impressive women helped shape and influence who I would become – and who I am today. Lessons were learned and confidence was earned through women leaders who brick by brick helped me lay the foundation for my career today.

On the heels of last week’s International Women’s Day, indulge me as I tell you about a handful of women whose orbit I entered and who helped create a universe of opportunity for me.

 

Inspiring, generous women

Straight out of Ithaca College I went to New York City to work for Bankers Trust, now Deutsche Bank, in their Limited Partnership division. The work involved the collection and distribution of funds and the management of shares for large construction projects such as Courtyard by Marriott. The division was headed by Denise Welsh, whose leadership and professionalism impressed me, but what impressed me most was watching her navigate banking in the 80’s, which was a male dominated industry. My interactions with Denise were limited but I had two female colleagues, Fernanda Guisti and Patricia Mullaney, who were instrumental to the operation and in my early professional development. These inspiring, generous women took me under their wings and taught me skills I still apply in my work today.

Professionalism, collaboration, teamwork, tenacity, attention to detail – these are qualities they nurtured in me. What they saw in me, I do not know. Perhaps they sensed my respect for their intelligence and work ethic. What I do know is that my early successes belonged in part to them and I’m confident they enjoyed watching me stretch and grow with their influence.

 

Pay it forward

In 1991 I went to work for another inspirational woman, Fran Timpson, at what is now Willis Towers Watson. She encouraged me to step up and take a swing at projects beyond my pay grade. She helped me understand that failure doesn’t have to be feared. She empowered me to take risks and to be confident in my ideas and judgment, and to this day I pay her wisdom forward, encouraging LiveArea colleagues to step outside their comfort zones to take risks and grow.

In 1994 Fran insisted that I start working with client server technologies. This was the future, or so we all thought – no such thing as the cloud yet – and I was happy to be in the CIO organization and part of the transition to this “emerging” technology. My excitement came to a screeching halt when the right hand to the CIO, Valerie Hanna, moved me away from the emerging Client Server technologies to an enterprise team working on a financial system developed in COBOL and Ingres on a DEC VAX. I was unhappy, not understanding why I would be moving to an aging technology and not working on the future.

Lessons were learned and confidence was earned through women leaders who brick by brick helped me lay the foundation for my career today.

I can still hear Valerie’s voice in my head today. “This will teach you to work in a large team environment with enterprise code, various staging environments, functional requirements, and develop an appreciation for change control,” she said. She had a vision for me that was beyond mine and, while I may not have agreed with the path she put me on, she knew exactly what she was doing. As an aside, Valerie went on to work for Marsh & McLennan as Senior Vice President of Technology and was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11, shortly before she was to retire. I miss her smiling face and will always appreciate the attention she dedicated to me and the intelligence she shared.

Debt of gratitude

I share this retrospective because I know I am not alone in the debt of gratitude I owe so many women. In recent years, more men have stepped up as advocates in accelerating women’s equality, committing to helping build diverse and inclusive organizations that challenge stereotypes and bias. It is not only the right thing to do it is the smart thing to do. LiveArea Director of Solutions Alexandra Wood said it best in our IWD blog: “Women bring a different perspective … [and] there’s a lot of value in this diversity.”

So, here’s to Denise, Fernanda, Fran, Patricia, Valerie, and all the women who shared their wisdom with me in the early stages of my career. Your generosity has made me who I am. And it doesn’t end here. Inspiration from women has continued throughout my career, up until today, and I look forward to sharing more stories in a future post.

 

Author: Jim Butler

Jim Butler is President of LiveArea.

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As shoppers become more digitally savvy, and businesses lean more into technology to differentiate themselves, eCommerce teams are often tasked with both creating fresh brand experiences and refining the ones already in place to keep up with high demands of omnichannel shoppers.

 CONTACT US

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Columbia, MD (HQ)    |   Dallas    |    Los Angeles    |    New York    |    Raleigh    |    Seattle    |    Bangalore    |    Liège    |    London    |    Sofia

NORTH AMERICA    1.800.920.4959    |    EMEA    +44 (0) 20 3475 4000

7001 Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia, Maryland 21046-2289

NORTH AMERICA
1.800.920.4959

EMEA
+44 (0) 20 3475 4000

CAREERS     |     CONTACT US     |     SUBSCRIBE