Retailers Thriving Through Transformation

Many retailers have already begun the process of transforming their internal systems and processes in order be able to meet new consumer demands in changing market conditions. We explore how.

  1. chevron left iconRetailers Thriving Through Transformation
Lucy Campbell-WoodwardJuly 11, 2023
  • Digital Asset Management
  • Digital Marketing

It is often shocking how fast the things customers value about brands can change. For a long time, consumers would favor organizations with a strong and lengthy heritage, one that implied the acquisition of many years’ experience.

But more recently, people are being drawn to the start ups. The young, scrappy contenders who bring fresh viewpoints, new products, and a more up to date way of doing things. Where old fashioned once meant solid and reliable, it can now also mean out of touch, or worse, inconvenient.

Internally too, employees of these legacy organizations have been feeling the cold winds of change at the back of their necks. Instead of being protected by the force of history, a stifling work environment restricted by archaic systems and processes, can create a vulnerability not felt in comparatively nimble newcomers. As a result, many well established retailers have been left teetering on the verge of obsolescence while some have already been consigned to the dustbin.

There is no denying that the threat to so-called ‘traditional’ retail has come hard and fast. To mention the singular giant of online retail, Amazon looms large across every retail sector while low entry points to ecommerce mean new competitors can spring up almost overnight.

But this need not mean the end of traditional retail. Many have already begun the process of transforming their internal systems and processes in order be able to meet new consumer demands and thrive in changing market conditions.

Legacy Retail Can and Should Transform

Take US beauty retailer, Ulta Beauty, for example. While many retailers struggled during the pandemic, the company didn’t just maintain its physical outlets as well as its online presence, it looks set to actually increase them, growing from 1,264 stores to 1,700 in 2021.

Retail analysts put the brand’s success down to a range of initiatives that focus on delivering added value, not just cosmetics to its customers. Its loyalty program grew by 14.4% between 2019 and 2020. The company also has fast fulfilment, powered by an efficient supply chain, exclusive offline distribution deals for some cosmetics brands such as Kylie, its own credit card program, and active personalization that drills down into product recommendations and reminders.

Notably, for a brand with such a strong, integrated omnichannel offering (its ecommerce sales rose 200% during lockdown), it did not begin as a digital pure-play. Ulta Beauty was launched in 1990 by two former Osco Drug executives with a few suburban stores. Its focus on ecommerce only really taking off in 2013 with the appointment of a new CEO.

Transformation, Piece By Piece

Along a similar vein, censhare has helped a US department store with almost a century of tradition retailing in the bag, to revitalize its business to match today’s customer expectations, without interrupting the day-to-day operations of 140,000 employees across its 1,100 stores. Inspiringly, its initial aim was to make its employees’ working experience as seamless as its customers’.

Clearly, happy employees are productive ones, but the retailer was able to foresee the business results it would gain from such a transformation of its internal processes. Smoothly integrated processes dramatically improves accuracy, output and efficiency. Workflows are streamlined, redundant processes eliminated, frustrations reduced, and employee satisfaction increased. All of which filters through to great customer experience.

Bringing a legacy business up to digital ‘code’ can seem like a daunting task but tech innovation is such that digital disruption need not be disruptive. As the old adage goes – how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Systems Should Grow with You

The censhare project I spoke of above began with an initial phase in two stages – automating workflows for the photo studio and ad inserts, impacting 160 employees. This kicked off a blueprint for transformation that was due to play out over five years, with email personalization next on the list. From that initial 160 employees, 1,300 staff are now using censhare’s Universal Content Management system to organize its digital assets and product information. On photographic assets alone, the company is now saving $250,000 annually by eliminating duplicate photo shoots.

Importantly, the retailer’s product manager notes that it is censhare’s technology itself that is transformational – although its capabilities continue to grow and expand with the business’s needs. Instead, she notes that it has allowed the business process owners have been able to use it to “make life easier for our customers and colleagues”, adding “A DAM (Digital Asset Management) is not an IT tool. It’s a business person’s best friend.”

The wholesale transformation of a legacy retail business overnight is neither possible, nor desirable. However, a well thought through implementation of a forward looking technology can iteratively improve processes and evolve as the organization does, according to its own manageable schedule, and in doing so can ensure a business’ survival and growth in trying times.

Lucy Campbell-Woodward
Lucy is Head of Marketing for censhare, and leads the global team in the aligned planning and implementation of censhare's marekting strategy. Having joined the team in 2017, Lucy has played a pivotal role in the censhare Marketing team for a good few years now, and stepped up into a leadership role in 2022.

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