As I shuffled through to the kitchen in predawn light, ominous smells were a warning to watch my step. Sure enough, one of our dogs had left a pile on the kitchen floor.
Having cleaned up, and then liberally sprayed the area with detergent, I went in search of newspaper to cover the wet patch. As I dismembered the Business Times, a headline caught my eye, trumpeting a large retail group “gear[ing] up for online retail future.”
This rang a bunch of bells, for reasons I am about to go into. Before I get there, am I alone in wondering how we are going to deal with dog messes when newspapers are eventually defunct? Going fully digital could have unintended consequences.
The newspaper headline triggered memories of a period when I actively pursued this company with a view to me contracting to get them active in online retail. I managed to line up one meeting with them, but despite my best efforts, that was our last contact.
These things happen all the time. I have no gripes about that. However, there may be some lessons relating to the way that large companies, generally, get on with things. Or not, as the case may be.
All this was happening back in April 2013. My contact confidently told me on email: “We are in the final stages of selecting an ecommerce platform and have already spent a great deal of time defining our strategy and planning our next steps, so reasonably far down the track.”
Five years later …
Fast forward to November 2018, and the launch has eventually happened. The concept that’s been applied is pretty much a carbon copy of the way the Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic ecosystem operates. And it’s exactly what I presented as a case study of how a retail group with multiple brands might approach online retail.
The problem is that the execution is clunky. The idea is that one can shop all their brands in one session. However, every time one moves from one ‘shop’ to the other there is a fresh request to allow cookies, location, and the same pop-up window inviting a mailing list sign-up. It doesn’t get better when browsing on phone.
This might have been acceptable in 2013, but the demands of today are somewhat different. It’s almost as if they presented a 2013 solution in 2018, no doubt intending for it to carry them through to the 2020s.
One wonders what has happened for the past five-and-a-half years.
Did the project pit IT against marketing? Surely finance would have had plenty to say about this new direction. What about logistics/distribution? I wonder how many meetings were required to agree on the margin split when online orders were collected from stores. HR may have had something to say about the employees manning the customer service line after hours. Did merchandising find a way of muscling in on the action? And what of the processes that get followed when an online customer decides to return an item to a store?
So many problems.
My filter for most offerings or processes is the human experience. When one approaches business from this angle, problems take on a different dimension. They also become a lot more straightforward when they’ve been framed with this clear objective.
It’s natural for all the silos within corporates to look after themselves. How would it be if, instead of all this internal mess, the priority driving the business activity was the experience of the customer?
The same goes for a move to online, whether retail or publishing. It’s all about delivering a great experience (or it should be).
It is necessary to step carefully when there is a large potential financial impact. However, when companies take this long to do things, the metaphorical olfactory clues suggest that the customer wasn’t the primary focus.