In what was supposed to be a “fun” and “exciting” kickoff event, Target launched its Lilly Pulitzer collaboration on “Pink Sunday” in April 2015 to great fanfare – but after a few minutes, fanfare turned into trouble.
Sitting in Target’s war room at 2 a.m., Jason Goldberger, president of Target.com and mobile, watched as the website crashed and consumers were met with an error message on the website.
“Every ten minutes, we were ten minutes away from a fix,” Goldberger said in a keynote address at the eTail East conference, recounting the frenzied effort that went into fixing the site.
His Twitter feed filled with angry tweets from dissatisfied shoppers. Texts flooded in, including one from his wife, asking what went wrong and why the site wasn’t working.
What went wrong was a bottleneck on Target's mobile app checkout—a scenario that Target didn’t test for.
“We tested a million problems, but we didn’t anticipate the number of people using the mobile application for checkout,” Goldberger said. “We missed the mark on Lilly because we relied on consumer data that was less than six months old and things had changed dramatically.”
Collecting timely consumer data could have helped Target avoid this embarrassing launch failure. It’s this focus on data and the consumer that was one of the key trends rippling through the many conversations taking place at eTail East. And when the conversation centers on the consumer, change, in both retailers’ data collection and organizational structures, could be needed.
Understanding the consumer through data
Whether acquired through in-store interactions or online analytics, data is the key to discerning customers’ wants and needs.
By 2017, millennials will replace Boomer moms as Target’s largest guest demographic. Because of this, Target is using a “guest-centric approach” to grow the company’s business, investing in digital channels in a faster rate than the industry average as digital devices are the center of the millennial generation’s shopping habits.
“Every company in this room says that they are guest obsessed, but to do that requires a huge amount of listening, research, and insights to really figure out who you’re trying to reach,” Goldberger said.
Target is far from the only major retailer looking to leverage data for consumer insight. Gilt, an luxury e-commerce company, let data guide the company’s international strategy when it was looking to expand overseas.
While many analysts focus on the European market for international expansion due to its mature market, Gilt’s senior vice president and GM international Marshall Porter said that the company choose to disregard this common knowledge, instead turning to its data.
“We said, let’s just listen to the data, and see what the data tells us,” Porter said. While they had a dashboard setup for Europe already, the data led them instead to Asia, where some of the company's key markets are today.
“Had we made the investment in Europe that a lot of companies are making,” Porter continued, “we would have lost a few years and a lot of money.”
Centralizing the data
While “breaking down the silos” is a platitude you will no doubt hear at many retail conferences, the phrase has broader implications beyond fulfillment and omnichannel operations. Many retailers at eTail East expressed the need to integrate different teams in their organization around one central mission: serving the customer.
Alex and Ani, a jewelry retailer started in 2004, made the customer a key focus when reorganizing the company a few years ago.
“We centralized digital. We’re breaking down the silos of having digital over here, marketing over here, and we’re unifying it around the customer. And that was big for us five years ago because no one was doing it,” said Ryan Bonifacino, Alex and Ani's CMO and senior vice president of digital.
“We just want to know what everyone is doing,” Bonifacino said. “We centralized [the data] in one place and really made intelligent, data-driven decisions, which led to one of the largest five-year compounding growth rates of all time for the Internet and digital side of the business.”
Breaking down the ‘fiefdoms’
Wider centralization of data around e-commerce and digital is a trend that could emerge in the retail space soon, Keith Anderson, vice president of strategy and insights at e-commerce intelligence provider Profitero, told Retail Dive in an interview. Anderson suggested that retailers and observers should keep an eye out for organizational changes that position e-commerce closer to the brick-and-mortar business.
This could take the form of a retailer having an e-commerce category that is responsible for the front end of its website, but still keeping the buying, merchandising, and pricing integrated with the brick-and-mortar side of business.
Alex and Ani had the unique advantage of being able to realign its organizational structure with this model because it was a small company five years ago. Its smaller scale gave the retailer the flexibility to arrange its corporate structure around digital.
But this shift won’t be easy — or perhaps even possible — for many big brick-and-mortar retailers who today attribute a small percentage of their revenues to online sales, according to Anderson, who consulted for larger retailers before coming to Profitero.
When it comes to breaking down silos, “[large retailers] have heard it all. It’s not that they haven’t heard the ideas, but they can’t do it,” Anderson told Retail Dive. “Organizationally, their incentives are not compatible with the directive of ‘everybody play nice.’ They’re all structured to compete internally in their careers and their incentive structures create little fiefdoms where, if you run the brick-and-mortar business or you run a region within a brick-and-mortar store, you’re measured against your labor growth, your labor efficiency, and your cost management.”
Anderson went on to explain that crossing the divide of the digital and physical businesses with new programs like free in-store returns and pickup in store could actually build tension within a company, as store employees become distracted and performance numbers suffer.
The customer is king
In order to succeed in today's omnichannel age, retailers big and small will need to bridge the siloes between different departments. And this can start with having the customer in mind every time a decision is made.
Ann Ruckstahl, CMO of web service provider Soasta, said it best during her talk on digital content management. While a focus on technology and data is crucial, retailers should also prioritize building a business built on performance culture and customer experience.
“If you don’t have people holding other people accountable at your company, you will have poor performance,” Ruckstahl said, “even if you are spending all this money on technology.”