gross margins apparel retailers

The message was clear during SAP’s annual Retail Executive Forum in New York City earlier this week: retail is creating a “new normal.” The audience heard from key thought leaders (from Costco Wholesale Corporation’s cofounder Jim Sinegal to L2’s chief executive officer Scott Galloway) about how to best leverage these changes and today’s retail trends to entirely transform — and boost — the customer experience.

Prior to the event, Lori Mitchell-Keller, global general manager of consumer industries at SAP, confirmed that the state of retail has undergone an enormous shift. “Retail’s new normal is here,” she announced. “It’s a time of disruption and intense competition, and we all must learn to adapt in a digital atmosphere that moves at a demanding speed — together.”

She explained that by hosting the event, SAP aimed to inspire retailers in such a way that they could leave the event feeling assured about adapting, leading and thriving in this state of change.

It’s a peculiar time for retailers, she acknowledged, but there remains ample reason to be hopeful. “Retail is simply going through a period of disruption and change akin to a renaissance — not an apocalypse,” she continued. “This is the type of conversation we hope to foster during the event, continuing to prove that retail is as strong as ever, and in fact, growing.”

Mitchell-Keller expressed that it’s vital to encourage this type of discussion. “Retailers are faced with a stigma that they will fail, and the simple truth is that with the right digital strategy, they can be more successful than ever,” she explained. She added that she hoped attendees would walk away from the event with practical and valuable insights with which to strengthen their businesses.

Of the presenters at the event — whose teams appeared to be thriving in what was often described as an otherwise tumultuous retail climate — Mitchell-Keller described that business’ ability to engage in innovative ways will aid in reaching consumers at the optimal time.

“They are using technology to deliver a just-in-time outcome within a transformed customer experience that previously would have been impossible,” she affirmed. “Now, the presenters are looking to share their experiences with peers to encourage further innovation.”

The Tommy Bahama Cabana Room shop.

The Tommy Bahama Cabana Room shop.  provided

Case in point: prior to his featured interview on stage, Doug Wood, chief executive officer of Tommy Bahama reflected on how important these types of innovations are (read about the video screens at Tommy Bahama’s ‘Cabana Room’ as one example) as well as the importance of melding together a strong cross-channel experience for the guest.

“With us, it’s not just bricks-and-mortar, it’s not just e-commerce, not just the restaurant,” he confided. Instead he explained, it all comes down to interacting with the guest — in any way that that guest wants.

From offering experiential in-store offerings like restaurants to seamless digital experiences that are true to the brand, Wood noted it is vital to constantly keep up with all of the evolutions at retail, as well as understand there is constant room for improvement.

Events like the SAP retail forum, he summed up, are critical for promoting and providing the space for discussions that touch on just that.

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