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Survey says retail CEOs making digital transformation highest investment priority this year

Published 24 February 2017

A new survey has revealed that digital transformation has firmly taken hold in retail with nearly half of retail executives surveyed having a defined digital strategy in place.

The next wave of change is sweeping across retail as the industry looks to leverage digital technologies to reach the modern shopper.

The Internet of Things (IoT), big data, robotics and augmented reality are some of the ways CEOs reveal they are choosing to invest their capital in the coming year to better compete.

The fourth annual JDA survey of more than 350 global retailers finds that a digital transformation strategy is their No. 1 priority in 2017; 69 percent of executives say they plan to increase their investment in digital transformation over the next year.

This and other key findings are highlighted in the “CEO Viewpoint 2017: The Transformation of Retail,” a new report prepared for JDA Software Group, Inc, by PwC.

JDA global retail strategy group vice president Lee Gill said: “The investment in technologies underscoring digital transformation was a major undercurrent within this year’s survey results, which is no surprise, since retail CEOs understand just how important it is to invest in the technology that will improve the customer experience.

“The next wave of results also reveal the continued balancing act retailers are struggling to maintain with delivering superior omni-channel execution and profitability, all while meeting the demands of the modern shopper, and keeping pace with the digital transformation underway across the supply chain.”

Retailers are leveraging digital technologies to better understand and connect with their consumers, giving customers reason to engage with them across retail channels. Despite the obvious importance of having a digital transformation strategy in place, surprisingly, more than half of respondents – 52 percent – have not defined or started implementing a digital transformation strategy yet.

Globally, Chinese retailers are more likely to be implementing their defined digital transformation strategy (58 percent) than the US (40 percent), with 19 percent of US retailers struggling to or choosing not to define this strategy at all.

Mobile-enabled applications (85 percent), big data (86 percent) and use of social media data (85 percent) are the top technologies survey respondents are investing in or plan to over the next 12 months, while automation and IoT are lower on the list for investment but gaining momentum as they are perceived as true game changers.

The use of social media and big data is highly valuable in giving retailers deep insights into rich sources of customer information, allowing them to create credible customer segments, while gaining insight into shopper preferences.

As omni-channel retailing continues to mature and retailers have blurred the lines between online and store, their attention has shifted to execution and profitability. Omni-channel execution amongst global retailers continues to lag in areas of order fulfillment, and profitability is still a challenge, with only 10 percent of those surveyed able to make a profit while fulfilling omni-channel demand.

Only 12 percent of CEOs surveyed, down from 19 percent in 2014, provide a seamless shopping experience across channels. These retailers are finding their omni-channel offerings to be too complex or expensive and are choosing to scale back.

Seventy-four percent of respondents believe that the cost of customer returns is impacting profits to at least some extent. Retailers in the US are less likely to experience profit erosion from customer returns than other markets. As CEOs look to regain profitability, their chosen areas for order fulfillment investment are prioritized by those that are the most important and net the most financial return.

The survey found that retail CEOs are increasing their investment in buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), with 51 percent of survey respondents saying they offer or plan to offer BOPIS in the next 12 months – up from 47 percent in 2016. Buy online, ship to store has picked up steam in the past year with 48 percent of retail CEOs investing in this service or planning to in the next 12 months.

Conversely, fulfillment options that are becoming costlier and less profitable are areas where CEOs are decreasing investments in 2017. These include same day delivery (reduced to 33 percent, down from 43 percent in 2016), and providing specific delivery time slots (down to 27 percent vs. 48 percent in 2016).

The rising costs of order fulfillment are also pushing executives to rethink their strategy overall. 2017 will see increased charges for online orders (57 percent plan to or will make this change in the next 12 months), a rise in minimum order thresholds for free standard home delivery (62 percent plan to or will make this change in the next 12 months), and raising the minimum order value for BOPIS (55 percent plan to or will make this change in the next 12 months).

“While retailers have increased fulfillment options over the last year to meet consumer demands, as BOPIS becomes a staple and buy online, ship to store emerges as another core fulfillment capability, retailers now need to balance the effectiveness and profitability of the fulfillment channels they offer - with customer satisfaction.

“Because if shoppers experience a problem with home delivery or in store pickups, that is a lost sale – and customer – that retailers can’t afford in a highly competitive market.”

Gill concluded: “Since JDA first commissioned PwC to conduct this survey in 2014, we have witnessed unprecedented change sweeping across the retail industry that continues in earnest as retailers reimagine their strategies to transform the customer experience, making it seamless and personalized, no matter how they shop.

“Supply chain complexities and cost will continue to challenge retailers, and the difference between winners and non-winners will be how much, or how little, retailers understand their customers moving forward.”

PwC conducted this survey in late 2016 with 351 responses from executives in the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, China and Japan. Thirty-two percent of responses were from top 250 retailers (> $5bn revenue), with another 53 percent from top 1,000 retailers.

Respondents identified themselves as coming from hard goods, soft lines, grocery, ecommerce and CPG verticals, and from related retail and consumer goods sectors.

Source: Company Press Release