Recently, I had the pleasure of being the master of ceremonies at the Aptos Thinking Retail Forum in Verona, Italy, a “must attend” event for the retail community to meet with peers and debate new trends and challenges facing the retail industry today and in the future.
Held in the beautiful surroundings of the Masi estates in Valpolicella, the region known as the “pearl of Verona” for its romantic scenery and great wines, the event focused on how to reenergize the customer experience in modern retailing. The conference, part of a world road show spanning six cities on four continents, attracted delegates from the most prestigious Italian brands, including Aptos’ customers (and I’d say friends) Brunello Cucinelli, Guess, Liujo, Tod’s, Safilo and VF, to mention just a few.
Onstage, in addition to colleagues, partners and industry experts, were three major Italian brands: sportswear leader AW Lab, represented by Planning Manager Andrea Tonello; Furla, represented by Head of Enterprise Architecture Matteo Curci; and Intimissimi, represented by E-Commerce Director Matteo Molon. These inspiring speakers shared their experiences and best practices in implementing Planning, PLM and omnichannel solutions, engaging the audience in deep, thought-provoking debates.
What did we learn from them, what new challenges do retailers face and what opportunities lie ahead? Here are my five takeaways from the event.
#1. The experience era is upon us and requires much more than fancy devices. By 2020, 81% of companies will compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, reported Aptos’ Luca Ferraris citing Gartner. Absolutely true: virtual reality, artificial intelligence, touch screens, smart mirrors and in-store social events are helping brands create engaging experiences and ever-tighter connections with their consumers. What emerged during the event, however, is that a misconception exists around the notion of “experiential retailing,” which is typically associated with “retailtainment.” While everybody recognizes that in-store digitalization, socialization and fun are key elements of the equation, the truth is that providing experiences is not just about investing in the latest technology device. Panelists showcased how competing in modern retailing means rethinking the way you fulfill demand across channels, manage inventory, and localize and personalize your assortments to the unique preferences of your buyers.
#2. Forward-thinking retailers are moving from omnichannel to channel-less experiences. Ever more retailers acknowledge that if they want to provide consistent experiences to their consumers, sales channels cannot be regarded as “islands.” Retailers have to look at the synergies among touchpoints and how they interact with one another. Ultimately, the concept of “channel” is something that matters to retailers, but it’s not a notion that matters to consumers. They don’t think (and don’t buy) within the borders of channels. Consumers expect a seamless experience whether they are using an app, a website or a social network, or visiting a store. Retailers, for their part, need to provide that experience through consistent branding, pricing, personalization and service levels at each point of interaction. As Andrea Tonello noted, AW Lab is taking important steps toward a channel-less approach, breaking down the silos among channels and bringing a holistic view to planning and merchandising.
#3. Channel-less experiences require new planning paradigms. Both AW Lab and Intimissimi underlined that a channel-less approach means rethinking the way you fulfill demand and plan for your inventory. In his session, Andrea Tonello described AW Lab’s project as “from anywhere to anywhere,” which envisages that the stock available in the overall network would ideally serve any touchpoint, no matter the channel. He noted, “As an example, the stock to fulfill an online order could come from the web, a local warehouse or a physical store. The objective is to satisfy demand where it arises while maintaining robust and consistent channel performance.” Adding to Tonello’s experience, Matteo Molon noted that creating customer experiences that are fluid among channels has been a priority for Intimissimi as well. One example he provided is the ability of Intimissimi’s shoppers to return products they bought online directly to the store. “This not only is benefiting the customer, who avoids the burden of sending back the product, but also has been slashing our logistics costs, as returns leverage our standard routes and logistics assets,” explained Molon.
#4. The product itself is the experience. Aptos’ Luca Ferraris and Sara Magnani quoted RetailWire when they firmly stated that when businesses talk about experiential retailing, “products must be the focal point.” Providing an optimized customer journey is key beyond any doubt, but retailers should never forget that the product itself is the experience. Everything from product design and curation to pricing and assortment localization creates that superior experience each retailer wants to provide. But how do retailers ensure that the products and assortments are right for their customers?
The approach Ferraris and Magnani described is that of a tighter integration between Planning and PLM. With Planning and Creativity more connected, all information and analysis coming from the market can be reported upstream to designers, buyers and product developers, who can benefit from these newfound insights about consumers in order to realize the best products from the earliest stages of development. Furla, explained Matteo Curci in his presentation, has undertaken a transformational journey with Aptos that has entailed Merchandise Planning and PLM in its first phases and is being extended to Assortment and Replenishment Planning. “Our approach is end to end, from design to store,” he noted. “Evolving our process and creating better synergies among them will support our business growth and continuous international expansion.”
#5. Change requires new skills, processes and technology. The “fil rouge” of all presentations was the need to manage change. Tonello from AW Lab explained that while the company’s vision is long term, its approach to change is incremental; AW Lab takes one step, tests it and moves to the next. Curci noted that Furla has set up a multidisciplinary change management team to deal with transformation, including people from IT and HR.
In his keynote speech, Aptos’ Andrea Basso noted, “Driven by disruptive technologies, process and product change is occurring much faster than before, and just like in nature, the ability to adapt will define winners.” According to Geoffrey Moore in his book “Organizing to Compete in an Age of Disruption,” as Basso further explained, the need is that of a business mentality oriented toward constant experimentation, where budgets and indicators related to innovation are clearly defined and measured. In terms of technology, “the future is in microservices platforms,” Basso noted. “These allow the most diverse processes to be added and activated, enabling any change to the business to happen fast.” Aptos’ Daniele Nizzero and Paolo Lovati described the steps Aptos has taken in that direction through the Aptos ONE platform and how Aptos’ customers are benefiting from that approach.
A full day focused on how to create differentiated experiences concluded with an immersive experience for all our delegates: a tour of the fascinating Masi cellars followed by dinner at the Alighieri estates, where each course was complemented by the perfect wine pairing – a dip into the colors, tastes and perfumes of Valpolicella.
If you would like to share your thoughts on the major trends you heard about at Thinking Retail or schedule a time to discuss your company’s customer experience and merchandise management objectives, I encourage you to reach out to me on LinkedIn.