Retail Tech Panel: Execs From Sephora, J.C. Penney, Dell Discuss Their Digital Futures
In a panel discussion at eTail West this week in Palm Springs, Calif., Harsh Acharya, head of technology and product, Dell; Dhritiman Saha, senior vice president, digital, J.C. Penney; and Raghu Sagi, chief engineering officer, Sephora, discussed how their businesses are evolving for a digital future. Specific attention was paid to transforming company culture, making strategic technology investments, setting realistic goals across the organization, and the retail technology they’re most excited about going forward.
The Impact of Digital on Company Culture
Harsh Acharya: People, processes and technology. Culture is tied to all three. You can't force change on people.
Raghu Sagi: At Sephora, how do we ensure she gets the best experience in any channel she touches. We need to provide for that through people, processes and technology.
Advice on Thinking About Technology
Acharya: Start with understanding corporate goals. We have Dell Advantage, a program to make sure people understand the corporate goals at the highest level, then we work backwards to meet those goals.
Dhritiman Saha: Where are customers struggling and complaining? Identify, and then look at technology to gain back the confidence of the customer. For J.C. Penney, we have short-term investments (six months to 15 months) to solve those pain points. And from a long-term perspective, what is going to differentiate itself in growing the business, and sustaining the growth. Will it be machine learning? If so, great. I don't care what the technology is as long as it’s meeting those corporate objectives. Balance short-term and long-term goals.
Sagi: Keep customers' pain points short. Short-term, for example, is putting AR technology in our stores. Test and learn, then we scale. If it can scale, then it can become a long-term objective.
Setting Realistic Goals
Saha: In the digital space, it's even more important to have hypotheses in place, then you set expectations and goals. Things can go wrong. Not everything that gets put into the production system is going to work. Fail fast if it goes really poorly once live. If it's OK, fine-tune for performance.
Sagi: Work with technology partners to help manage expectations. Bring the business executives and partners into the conversation so that they know what to expect from each other.
Acharya: We try not to make it a business/IT relationship. We perform A/B testing as quickly as possible. No one can predict how a feature is going to perform. Also, boundaries need to go away; teams must be able to work together without any boundaries.
Tech Most Excited About
Acharya: Machine learning. In the past, we’ve done a lot of planning based on past data. Just like mobile and social waves, artificial intelligence and machine learning will change the way we do business, from merchandising to pricing, among other things. Embrace these technologies that can help you predict what you should be doing rather than looking at historical data to make decisions.
Saha: Automation. Machine learning algorithms for personalized searches, for example. Reduce human intervention for tasks that can be automated.
Sagi: Machine learning. I’m also excited about augmented reality. For example, the ability to apply makeup without touching it. Also chatbots to offer and schedule beauty services in-store. We’re looking at technologies that personalize the customer journey.
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