The Good, The Bad and The reality of Digital Transformation in Retail

May 17, 2017


In partnership with Stanton House, I hosted a Finance Director evening to discuss Digital Transformation in Retail.

The ongoing external pressure and expectation to invest in digital transformation and a consumer first strategy continues to have a fundamental impact on the finance function. Within a hugely competitive landscape, the ever evolving requirements and speed of technological adoption creates a variety of issues when forecasting and accounting for historical spend.


We had the pleasure of inviting retail, ecommerce and digital specialist Antony Welfare to share his expert opinion and insight with a selection of senior finance professionals. Antony is a vastly successful management consultant, with over 10 years physical retailing experience, combined with a further 10 years ecommerce and digital expertise so ideally placed to advise on the future of the industry without losing sight of its tradition.

Antony shared a number of examples from the current retail landscape and provided in-depth insight into future trends of the retail industry and the associated financial pressure and restraints.

Key highlights included:

Do you really understand your customer journey? Whilst every journey is different Antony posed that there is always a problem that needs to be solved. Even within the most complex of Omni channel environments.

Disruptive technology – how will you manage (and succeed) in the new world? Whilst IOT, AR and VR dominate the headlines there are many other technological advancements, most notably Blockchain, that have the potential to revolutionise the industry.

What does the store become? For organisations with extensive retail estates Antony shared the most effective ways to maximise this investment, including; creating experiential stores and improving click and collect, whilst showcasing the best in class and most cutting edge examples that are currently reaping rewards.

Systems and processes – when exploring the highlights of systems functionality and data flow Antony provided the advice not to let technology get in the way of putting your customers first, Digital transformation is a conduit to delivering the right customer experience.

Will you take your people where you need them? Antony shared that Retailers find that one of their biggest impediments to sustainable growth is a lack of quality ecommerce and digital skills and understanding. To beat your challenging growth targets the only option is to fill the multichannel skills gaps.


As Antony quite rightly said “We can no longer be a little bit digital”. The one thing that is clear is that success will most likely rely on being able to deliver real-time, personalised content and connecting the insight from a vast array of tools and systems.

With new online only start-ups launching on a daily basis and the dominance of a few established online e-tailers, established retailers will need to continue to explore new ways to blend their online and offline customer experiences without diluting what makes their brand special. For many businesses that have been built on bricks and mortar this requires substantial change and a realignment of strategy focused on agility at scale.

The reality is that the digital customer has revolutionised retail and whilst the key trends are relatively easy to predict and plan for the biggest opportunities remain in the unexpected or unknown. Being able to budget and forecast based on the unknown create a conundrum for finance professionals, especially if you are used to pre-existing models that rely on physical spend.

Whatever happens next, all of this change will create a considerable people challenge within finance. As the opportunities within AI, VUI, VR (and many other acronyms in-between) will be at the top of numerous agendas any investment will cause disruption to the workforce. One thing we can be certain of is that technical spend alone is not the answer and success will be determined by not only hiring in new skills and expertise but upskilling existing employees.


So whilst the headline may have been a little emotive it is undeniable that there is no sign of technological slowdown as the retail sector undergoes radical and progressive digital transformation to grow and retain existing customers. Whatever the focus of an organisations strategy the underlying priority is on increased reporting, more accurate analytics and in turn increased accountability.

From a people perspective, whether the transformation is focused on sophisticated ways to deliver products, innovation in the supply chain, better connecting a customer’s online and offline experience or all of the above, it provides an incredible opportunity for finance professionals to play a leading role and enhances the path of a finance professional to CEO.

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