RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • For years, retailers have tried to keep pace with evolving consumer demand for an always-on, personalized experience that blends physical and digital.
  • But many retailers struggle to reach this new future, with hard-wired businesses that are unable to rapidly and affordably respond to constant change.
  • With the cloud at the core, retailers can cost-effectively, continually and sustainably innovate to provide the right retail experience in the moment.
  • The important question to ask about cloud is not about costs, but how cloud can enable an adaptive retail business that can change, innovate and grow.


Delivering the new retail experience

The demand for retailers to remain relevant to customers has intensified during the global pandemic, as have consumer requirements for sustainability. Sixty-seven percent of consumers agree that companies will build back better from the pandemic by investing in longer-term, sustainable and fair solutions.

An adaptive retailer can respond to constant disruptions, building the kind of sustainable resilience it needs to drive innovation and growth.

Together, these shifts have increased pressure on retailers to accelerate the development of the future retail experience. But most retailers’ businesses are still too hard wired to quickly flex and evolve. Retailers need to break free of these constraints—with an aggressive move to the cloud.



Every retailer operating in this pandemic would like to be more digital, with integrated channels, offering curbside pickup and profitable home delivery models, with repurposed stores that double as storehouses to complement their warehouses.

But that’s just on the surface. What this means to retailers is the ability to rapidly and affordably adapt to whatever the current situation requires. And that necessitates a business built with cloud at its core—it’s what Accenture calls Living Systems.

Creating Living Systems for retail

With Living Systems, retailers use the cloud to integrate their entire business as a new retail platform that, first, enables them to rearchitect the end-to-end retail business to get closer to consumers and, second, substantially reduces their impact on the environment.



The key to Living Systems is data. Setting data free from legacy systems, developing deep insights from it, and leveraging it to drive better business decisions is the name of the game. Employing the right operating models and advanced machine learning to develop impactful scenarios that can be planned, tested, and simulated—and then using insights from those scenarios to discern the right trade-offs—that’s the key to adaptability. And cloud computing is built for this.

Fueling the shift to sustainable retail

Importantly, cloud-based Living Systems also can bring significant sustainability benefits to retailers. A sustainable cloud migration can have multiple direct environmental effects that result from using hardware optimally.

But cloud journeys also enable retailers to take the next leap toward responsibility through circular business models, traceability and optimized supply chains, and a sustainable customer experience.

Fashion retailer H&M is doubling down on sustainability by working with Accenture to build and run its ecommerce solution on wind power via the cloud.

Navigating the barriers to retail innovation

The promise of cloud-based, sustainable Living Systems for retailers is huge—so why aren’t more retailers embracing them?

The biggest issue is the scale and debt of old technology. But this doesn’t have to be an obstacle—there are proven approaches, such as Accenture’s Technology Debt Model, that can help retailers address modernization in a way that funds the move to the cloud.

Creating Living Systems via the cloud is a technology play first, but in reality, the technology part is easy. The hard part is realigning mindsets to fully leverage the cloud and all that it offers. This is a step-change in how a retailer thinks about its business and how it adopts, integrates and uses new technologies to unlock trapped value.

Here are five key levers that influence success.

1. Reimagine

Retailers need to re-envision how to create value, and adopt business models and customer offerings that drive growth via integrated technology.

2. Realign

Retailers need to install an agile organization to put technology at the heart.

3. Adopt

Retailers need to adopt new practices for agility and experimentation.

4. Create

Retailers need to create a flexible cloud technology core for sustainable change.

5. Empower

Retailers need to empower talent to innovate with technology.

View All

Seizing the opportunity to become a Cloud First retail enterprise

Before the pandemic, many retailers had already begun to move parts of their business to the cloud. And in many cases, the pandemic has accelerated those plans.

While the current environment is very challenging for retailers, it will eventually get better. And when it does, retailers that haven’t taken advantage of this time to transform their business will be disadvantaged against those that have.

And that doesn’t mean simply moving more existing systems and applications to the cloud.

Retailers that have used the cloud to rapidly re-envision their business on a cloud-enabled, sustainable Living Systems platform will become a true digital retailer able to keep up with the pace of change and to cost-effectively and continually evolve and innovate to deliver the experiences customers want.



Jill Standish

Senior Managing Director – Global Lead, Retail


Elizabeth Marrion

Managing Director & Global Retail Cloud Lead

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