World Trade Center revival, New York

As more and more data invades the marketplace, retailers need to keep their eye on the prize: the consumer, which requires following their lead. SAP U.S. managing director of retail Matt Laukaitis and Aldo’s chief information officer Lance Martel examined how to navigate a path to the consumer amid fervent chaos of competition and rapidly evolving business models.

These are turbulent times, but a little shakiness might be helpful, according Laukaitis. He urged retailers to consider the path to success as a series of waves to weather not only from external sources but also internally. This constant scrutiny invites daily disruption for improved customer experience, he said. Change is not a singular hurdle to overcome and then resume business as usual. “Use disruption as questions about the business to address the company’s culture,” Laukaitis said. “Attack yourself before someone else does.”

Evolution, survival and adaptation are key. Laukaitis noted that efficiently evolving businesses will be the ones still standing. “We’re seeing businesses today building this innovation culture that constantly asks themselves what we can we do to make the customer experience better and how can we reinforce her experience with our brand…and then build that DNA,” Laukaitis said.

Each department needs to support the customer’s journey. Let her take the wheel. “Winners in the market have a singular focus: The consumer is always in control. She will always dictate what her experience is with the brand and how she’s going to purchase,” Laukaitis explained. Today’s consumer has high expectations of her retailers and isn’t afraid to explore alternatives should a brand fall short.

What’s the secret to appealing to a consumer holding all the cards? Be human. “Focus the way a human does in sensing what’s happening in the market. If you really understand then you understand her social interactions and how she talks about your brand,” Laukaitis said. “Do you understand how this translates to your internal operations and how that serves her needs and shopping experience? Focus on the customer and then act.”

Aldo’s Martel echoed Laukaitis’ advice on designing the customer experience. Notably featuring an in-store location in Manhattan’s new Westfield World Trade location, the brand was inspired to think big. A fresh in-store digital initiative commenced envisioned as Aldo’s connective store.

Technology can be distracting for the consumer, and for businesses introducing it. “Define products and experiences that are focused on the customer, not technology. Figure out the pain points in the experience and go after those specifically,” Martel said.

To Martel, it’s not about failing but adjusting. Building the infrastructure to support customer experiences is crucial. Strong program management was imperative to help build Aldo’s digital initiatives. Throughout the process, Martel learned that platforms for innovation needed to exist before the products.

Partnership with c-level executives to in-store associates are all valid members of the new ecosystem, according to Martel. From the big-idea to the discovering small wins available for development, it’s all about servicing the consumer with personalized and delightful experiences.