Like the rest of the globe, the retail industry is in the midst of a major crisis as COVID-19 continues to rage on. With stores forced to close in much of the country, retailers have struggled to keep up with shopper demand while the industry’s biggest distribution channel remains under wraps.
This inability to operate at anywhere near full strength will have long-term implications for the industry as those retailers that were already struggling prior to the health crisis crumble as revenues streams dry up. Just last week, iconic retailers J. Crew and Neiman Marcus both filed for bankruptcy as they were unable to weather the coronavirus storm.
While the restrictions are starting to lift in many parts of the country, the disruption caused by the pandemic will have lasting implications for the foreseeable future. Customer shopping habits have been forever altered and retailers are investing in new digital technology to shore up their contactless payment, omnichannel fulfillment, order management, and much more.
To get an idea where some of the industry’s leading retailers are allocating their IT investment dollars, as well as where they plan to focus their spending in the future we asked our Top Women in Retail Tech the following question:
The Top Women in Retail Tech is an annual feature produced by RIS for the past four years. It aims to highlight and honor female technologists that are driving the industry forward. The feature is available now, look for full Q&As to be published in the coming weeks. Below is a sampling of the responses we received from the honorees on their company’s COVID-19 investment plans.
“COVID 19 has thrown us all for a very unexpected loop in retail. We have had to temporarily close our stores, pull back on our wholesale deliveries, and ensure our ecommerce business is up and running to meet our customer’s needs. Our ecommerce platform, OMS, and distribution systems look a lot like holiday peak as they carry the load for our entire retail division during this difficult time. Carter’s has been investing in omnichannel capabilities to deliver product from multiple DCs and stores, which will be a key to meeting our customers’ expectations once we start to return to normalcy.
Our corporate IT operations have had to shift to a 100% work from home workforce. During this uncertain time we quickly turned on Microsoft Teams and accelerated our Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). These technologies have been critical for establishing connectivity and communication. They have also transformed the way we work. I look forward to greater flexibility and agility once we establish our new normal.”
“Video and collaboration platforms such as Cisco’s Jabber, WebEx, Microsoft Teams as well as remote access / VPN solutions have become the go-to tools in our portfolio to allow our teams to effectively work remotely. These aren’t always the tools most retail folks want to invest in but have truly showed their value over the last couple of months. From a retail perspective we need to continue to expand our investments in our Unified Commerce and Consumer Engagement solutions to provide platforms for consumers to engage more with our brands and provide them various options for purchase – providing them seamless and frictionless consumer experiences with our on-line and store channels.”
“Managing through COVID is not unlike how we manage our business during holiday peak. There is a core group of people ― Jacks/Janes of all trades ― keeping Lands’ End humming 24/7, even during the toughest of days. We are fortunate to have a very steady local platform, with a variety of dynamic tools sitting on it that allow us to flex and adapt very easily. Once normalcy returns, it’s all about pushing in to holiday peak. Being able to run in sustained “lean time” mode for as long as we have gives me great confidence that we can continue to give our customers the great experience they expect from Lands’ End.”
“This is a prime opportunity for us to listen to our customers. We have a captive audience, and an opportunity to try new things to see what the response is. In general, our customers have more time to engage, and fewer distractions. We should all be accelerating the pace at which we release new functionality. Fast is better than perfect. It’s okay to be scrappy, and not everything will work. Use this time to take some risks and see how your customers respond.
Once life gets “back to normal,” let’s not lose this urgency. We should always strive to develop as quickly as possible for our consumers.”
“Automation, automation, automation. Automation is not intended to replace the individual. Automation will give the individual time to dream, time to develop strategies and visions, time to innovate and adapt as the customers shopping habits change. The future of retail is combining human knowledge with science and technology. Smarter and faster is the retail wave of the future."