Interview • 09.12.2022

Lifebelt digital headquarters in retail?

About You and Douglas – How retail can succeed in a digital world

In recent years, some companies that previously relied on their fixed location havebeen forced to switch their business model partially or even completely to e-commerce-but this is not enough to survive in this fast-moving and agile market.Digitizationrequires one thing above all: internal rethinking, in order to enable onlineretailing to be successful in the long term. We spoke with Pip White, Senior VicePresident and General Manager EMEA at the technology company Slack, about howretailers can overcome the challenges of digitization.

Person with long blond hair smiles at the camera
Pip White is Senior Vice President & General Manager EMEA at Slack. Previously, she was responsible for Google Cloud in the UK and Ireland at Google and held various leadership positions at Salesforce.
Source: Andrew Porter Photography

Ms. White, what deficits do you personally see when it comes to the topic of digitization in retail?

The shift from stationary to online retail is the logical step companies need to take within the scope of digitization. However, something crucial is often not taken into consideration: With the shift to e-commerce, the behavior, needs and expectations of customers – and employees – are also changing. Creating a seamless customer experience is therefore more important than ever. In addition, teams are faced with the challenge of hybrid working. All of this requires a special level of efficiency, agility and coordination. Companies that want to remain viable must recognize this need and also adapt their internal processes accordingly.

How can companies manage this challenge?

By focusing on their collaboration. Particularly against the backdrop of increasingly time-and location-independent working, it is becoming more and more important for companies to offer their employees and teams a place where their collaboration can take place smoothly and as efficiently as possible and where they are provided with the tools they need for their daily work. We call this "digital headquarters". It improves digital business structures and helps companies to optimize their own collaboration.

Slack is known as a collaboration tool – why is it particularly suitable for the retail industry?

In fact, we no longer see Slack as just a communication tool, but as mentioned earlier, as adigital company headquarters. Efficient collaboration is the key to success. This also applies to the retail industry, where speedy customer support is quite crucial – even more due to digitalization. Especially during recurring peaks in demand, such as Christmas, Black Fridayor Valentine's Day, a tool like Slack can help to manage a particularly high volume of customers by allowing the right people to collaborate efficiently. It also supports external collaboration with partners, service providers and customers. Up to 250 organizations can be brought together in their own channels. Online retailer About You, for example, uses this option to bring partners together, as part of an annual event sponsorship. In addition, the company coordinates its server capacities directly with Amazon Web Services (AWS) – which is also very useful, especially in phases of high demand.

How can the tool support retailers in the fields of store communication and store management?

Shopping behavior is increasingly hybrid, and many retailers are linking their online stores with their stationary stores, such as the DOUGLAS beauty platform: goods can be purchased online and picked up in the store or, conversely, ordered in the store and delivered to the customer's home. For such flexible omnichannel strategies, the stationary store must be digitized and linked to the online store. A digital headquarters offers companies the opportunity to integrate / annex teams in branches to a digital infrastructure and exchange information in channels with other branches or relevant persons. Thus, information and decisions are accessible to all employees on an open platform – regardless of whether they are on the sales floor, in the office or working from home.

What are the opportunities for e-commerce?

With the implementation of a digital headquarters companies enhance processes in the e-commerce business in a variety of ways. In product development, for example, they can be used to exchange ideas, promote creative work and serve as a searchable archive for the entire company. In e-commerce, however, reaction time also plays a decisive role. Errors hold up business and, in case of doubt, cost a lot of money. By using channels, bots, and custom app integrations, for example, companies can develop their own incident management and significantly reduce incidents. At the same time, processes can be automated and standardized through easy-to-implement workflows.

How can you imagine its use in actual day-to-day retail operations?

Employees have access to the digital company headquarters via app or browser at any time, no matter where they happen to be. Instead of lengthy and confusing e-mail correspondence, the communication on various topics takes place in channels. For example, if a buyer's inquiry about an order problem is received, it can be entered into a corresponding support channel and directly be processed by the responsible employee. They can also start a search in the channel to see whether the problem has already been recorded and solved, and take appropriate and faster action.

How do you assess the role of such tools in general for the future in retail?

Using collaboration platforms to build and deploy a digital headquarters will have a direct impact on business capability in retail sooner or later. Sales teams will be able to accelerate deal cycles, give faster approvals for product developments or launches, or manage key campaigns with ease and flexibility. In addition, stock levels can be shared or demand for specific products can be checked in a matter of seconds. Even classic support requests – that are part of everyday business in retail – can be optimized thanks to Slack. Typical support requests from shoppers include for example problems with the ordering process and unexpected order cancellations. Only those who take these problems and challenges seriously and respond quickly enough will be able to retain customers in the long term. 

Interview: Katja Laska

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