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Witnessing many changes over the years, Greg Girard sees an industry at the corner of urgency and uncertainty and is very interested in what’s next.
How did you get involved in the retail industry?Like many things in my life, it was by happenstance. My route to retail came through my role as a supply chain management consultant. I was focused on business strategy and process optimization back in the day of re-engineering.
Ultimately, I flipped my focus to information technology and then had an opportunity to build a new business within retail as an analyst. Even though I’d never been in retail, I brought fresh eyes to observing the industry. I've been told that my outside-in point of view has been a great asset along the way.
So I guess you could say I worked my way into retail through the supply chain side. It makes sense because the supply chain is so central to retail. For me, it was a matter of working from there to understand the customer facing aspects of the business--all along focusing on the opportunities to apply science in support of decision-making.
How do you think of today’s consumer?I coined the notion of the “Five I Persona”, which permeates so much of what we do, not just as consumers, but also in other areas of our lives. Today’s smartphone-toting consumer is Instrumented, Interconnected, Informed, In-place and Immediate in his/her ability to express, act on and fulfill aspirations.
Watch this video to learn more about the “Five I Persona”
Download Video Transcript [PDF, 161KB]PDF Help
Do you wear your consumer or your analyst hat when you shop?Definitely both. All of us are consumers, and I don’t think I’ll ever lose that perspective despite my role as an industry analyst.
However, when I shop, I enjoy talking to sales associates about the technology they use. It seems to be a 50/50 split in terms of how satisfied they are with the systems they’re using.
I also like to ask associates about whether the merchants ever ask them what would sell well. Sometimes, they tell me no—while standing in front of a big “marked down” sign. That speaks volumes. Associates are in an ideal position to offer distilled insight from customers. Retailers are not tapping into this to the degree that they should be.
Tell us about your most memorable retail consumer experience?Recently, I was in a department store and an associate helped me choose a jacket. I bought it, but I never really liked it—it just didn't fit my frame.
So I brought the jacket back and asked if an associate could help me with an exchange, which she did.
The first time I wore the new jacket, I got a spot on it. I took it to a very well regarded dry cleaner. When I got it back I noticed that the seams on the shoulders were puckering. The dry cleaner could not fix it, so I brought the jacket back to the store.
Turns out, the puckering was a defect, and I ended up exchanging the jacket for another one—which was more expensive. The funny thing is that even though I spent more money, I was happier because I’d had such responsive service and a very handsome blazer. It shows how important customer service and customer value are to all of us.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned about the retail industry?Since 1999, I’ve witnessed a steady pace of change, which has accelerated in the past few years. Things were stalled during the great recession, but the rate of change is increasing at an exciting pace.
Recently, I’ve been surprised by Amazon’s discussion of next-day delivery. They are talking about plans to create distribution facilities that enable them to do this. The thing is that these distribution centers already exist—and they are called stores.
Amazon is going to make big investments here, but omni-channel retailers with storefronts and online presences already have the infrastructure to do this--and now a few leaders are implementing the systems and processes for same day. This could be the first time Amazon does something, and omni-channel stores get the better of it.
How are retailers doing at making the most of Big Data?The Big Data and analytics survey research we completed at IDC Retail Insights reveals that one quarter of all Big Data and analytics projects completed to date did not meet expectations.
Looking at this another way, we learned that 20 percent of the market players are laggards here, 20 percent are leading the rest in terms of maturity, and 60 percent are somewhere in the middle.
The opportunity to extract value from Big Data in retail -- and it's a huge opportunity -- is a very complicated proposition that involves technology, data, processes, people and intent. I think there is a lot of excessive exuberance around the concept as Alan Greenspan would say, and I have some concern that retailers will rush ahead without mature-enough capabilities to delivery results that meet or exceed their expectations.
What impact is analytics making on the retail industry?Most retailers have too much data and too little insight. The rate of the accumulation of data exceeds retailers’ ability to ingest, store and analyze it. In many cases, especially with t-log data, retailers are losing the granularity of the data--where the lion's share of value is hidden.
Retailers are struggling to get beyond the summary level, and this kind of analytical compromise thwarts their ability to gain insight. We see this with loyalty schemes too. Retailers get consumer data, but most haven't been able to analyze it well enough beyond giving discounts.
The industry must get to a point where they are ingesting, analyzing and reporting data at the clock speed of business. There is tremendous potential, but a lot of work to be done.
How well are most retailers doing at becoming truly seamless retailers?IDC Retail Insights recently completed our Retail Insights 2014 Predictions. We are seeing 50 global retailers who are already leading the way, many with new C-level positions focused on omni-channel.
In 2014, we’ll see a pack of fast followers looking to gain traction here. With this movement, we will see an emergence of demand for transformation programs centered on omni-channel information technology.
What one technology has the most potential to reinvent retail in the near term?At IDC Retail Insights, we talk about the third platform. It contains four pillars: Big Data and analytics, mobility, social and the cloud. I think various mash-ups of the first three will transform loyalty, merchandising, marketing, channels--in particular stores, supply chain, and fulfillment, with cloud contributing to economies and agility to IT operations.
If we look at what is happening with respect to social and mobile, consumers are ahead of retailers. But retailers have opportunities to get ahead on Big Data and analytics.
I see a rethinking of the trade-off between privacy and personalization. With mobile, privacy concerns go beyond digital interactions to digital behaviors in specific places and times. Privacy flags are already getting raised and retailers will need to address them.
What is the next Amazon doing today? 3D printing. The ability to specify a product to exactly what you want and have it delivered the same day right where you are will change the game. We’re already seeing this in pockets in areas like manufacturing.
It reminds me of a great quote from William Gibson, “The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed.”
Interviewee Name and Job Title: Greg Girard, Program Director, Omni-Channel Analytics, IDC Retail Insights
March 7, 2014
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