Wednesday Nov 04, 2015

Collaboration, Creativity and Contribution: Observed Characteristics of a Successful Category Management Strategy

Author: Amber Trendell, Director of Retail Marketing, Oracle 

The Annual Category Management Conference had a strong underlying thread that weaved all of the sessions together this year and that was the demonstrable upside when retailers and suppliers collaborate. And that collaboration starts with data. Lots and lots of data. From consumer insights to store transactions, category managers have one thing in abundance and that is information. On the flip side, category managers on both sides of the fence are stretched super thin as they attempt to create compelling, localized assortments that are varied enough to make consumers feel they have the best selection and targeted enough to maximize space and revenue. 

So how are category managers successfully transitioning from tactical to strategic and delivering wins for their business? I heard three primary messages at the event this fall: Collaboration is key, Creativity is not a luxury but a necessity, and with the right strategy and tools you can clearly demonstrate Contribution to the business. Here's some additional detail:

Collaboration: when retailers and suppliers work together to identify upside and define a collaborative strategy the results can be phenomenal. Take the case study presented by Wawa and Redbull. Redbull knew empirically that Wawa lagged behind its competitors in the energy drink category and based on their projections demand for the product is on a steady climb well into the future. By working together to define a strategic goal of making Wawa the destination for energy drinks the C-store not only took the leadership role in the category but enjoyed double-digit organic growth. If we extend this concept of collaboration further to include technology and data science-as-a-service there is far more upside to be captured. Learn more about leveraging Science to Drive Profit and Differentiation in Grocery Retail here.

Creativity: it's likely safe to say that virtually everyone in retail knows that the impact of eCommerce on stores is really only in its infancy. If stores become an experience destination and media becomes the new eCommerce vehicle as predicted by Doug Stephens in his keynote session, how will category managers for products that may not translate as exciting or engaging ride the wave of store as experience destination? The answer is creativity and that is not something you can aggregate, pivot and deliver a report on. You need time to think and interact and actually go out into the field and experience your stores. So where is the time going to come from? By transitioning space optimization, consumer decision trees and demand transference analysis to a partner like Oracle you can effectively get out of the business of data crunching and into the business of experience orchestration.

Contribution: understanding the future of retail and how to capitalize (or just stay relevant) is important but where the rubber meets the road is in your ability to demonstrate lift and value to the business today. Oracle Retail has thoughtfully designed its planning and optimization solutions to align with varying degrees of business maturity particularly in respect to retail science and cloud applications. Whether you're just getting started or are ready to apply advanced retail science to your data, we have options.

Download the recent Oracle OpenWorld presentation on our planning solutions from retail expert Marc Koehler: Planning: Consumer Inspired Assortments

Wednesday Oct 28, 2015

Reporting from Oracle OpenWorld: The Road Ahead

For the benefit of our global community, here is an editorial view on the presentations from Oracle OpenWorld 2015. We have had a fantastic week in San Francisco. Wish you were here. 

Oracle will continue to bring retailers new and more flexible capabilities expanding the integration of its more than 50 software products designed for retail, according to Jeffrey Warren, Oracle’s vice president of Solutions Management.

Warren outlined what’s ahead for the company’s retail software solutions in an “Oracle Retail Roadmap and Vision” session at Oracle Open World in San Francisco on Monday. “We’ve done some very exciting things in the last year,” he said. “We have several integrations and new products that are coming out as a result of hard work within our R&D organization.”

Customers no longer question the need for a “Commerce Anywhere” solution that helps satisfy customer demands across channels, Warren said; instead, they need assistance in implementing a solution. “As we talk to our partners, the most common question is, ‘We understand what we need to do, but can you help us create a roadmap for how we are going to do it?’ These are the products we believe are going to help get you there.”

Common Goals

Retailers’ goals are fairly straightforward: They want to better identify who their customers are, better engage with those customers, help them convert and reward their loyalty in an increasingly complicated, omnichannel environment. “We believe we have the capabilities to help you achieve these four goals successfully,” he said.

Commerce Anywhere retailers must be ready to fulfill demand regardless of the source, and Oracle’s end-to-end solution is the only one of its kind on the market. “We are the only company that allows you to manage and create everything from operational-level financial planning down to the in-store experience,” Warren said.

New analytics features from Oracle will help retailers manage features such cluster forecasting, mobile merchandising management, exception reporting, and improved XBRi loss prevention in an easy-to-upgrade package. Users can switch functions on and off simply by making a phone call. 

The system will help retailers plan across channels. “Commerce Anywhere is not just the ability to buy online and return in-store,” he said. “Oracle gives you the ability to plan, forecast and manage across all of your channels.”

And new analytics features will offer insights to help retailers streamline every aspect of their businesses. “The goal is to use science and analytics to make you successful,” Warren said. “It’s an arms race that not everyone can keep up with. We can help you get better insights into the data you already have, and make it easier for you to leverage and mine that data.”

Easy to Implement

At the same time the Oracle Retail platform is going to deliver a better, more intuitive user experience. Retailers will be able to access simplified dashboards that unlock operational data that helps them merchandise better at a lower cost, Warren said. The interface is already so simple that many retail associates can learn to operate the system in 15 minutes, and companies are skipping formal training programs.

A new mobile interface, expanded exception reporting, XBRi loss prevention, and other aspects of Oracle’s retail package are also getting upgrades and integrations. “Having 50 products in your portfolio is a challenge,” Warren said. “People expect all 50 of those products to work together. With every release, we will invest in integrating both process and product.”

Oracle will continue to invest in retail software development at a “disruptive” rate, Warren said, to offer clients enhanced flexibility and ultimately, marketplace success. “This is a platform that allows us to innovate,” Warren said. “We have over 100 active patents in retail, and this is something we are investing in for your benefit.”

Oracle will help retailers access the right solutions, he added, with attentive customer care. “When you need us, you can pick up the phone and we’re going to be there,” he said. “Our goal is to allow you flexibility of deployment. Our goal is to help you find the right fit for your organization.” 

The full presentation is posted in the Oracle Retail Rack: Oracle Retail Roadmap and Vision

Monday Apr 27, 2015

Insights from OIC: Nordstrom’s New Canada Stores Become Testing Grounds for Enterprise IT Initiative

Last month our customer shared some fantastic experiences at Oracle Industry Connect 2015. Here is a glimpse of what you missed from the sessions....

Among its other accomplishments, Nordstrom has been a retailing technology pioneer, beating its competitors to market with customer-focused offerings including save-the-sale and endless aisle capabilities, buy online/pick up in-store, and coordinating returns between multiple stores and channels.

From 2001 until 2013, the Oracle Retail Merchandising System (RMS) served as a technology backbone for Nordstrom’s increasingly complex operations, but this required more and more customization as time progressed. When the retailer realized it was reaching the limits of customization, it initiated the Nordstrom Next Generation (NGEN) initiative, a six-plus-year program to support the company’s growth by replacing its current enterprise foundation solutions with new Oracle Retail systems offering advanced capabilities and scalability.

Nordstrom’s recent expansion into Canada is doubling as the first phase/pilot for NGEN, according to Nordstrom Director of Supply Chain and Fulfillment Brenda Glasgow, who spoke in late March at Oracle Industry Connect in Washington DC. The retailer has already opened two of a planned 10 full-line stores in Canada, with the next opening planned for fall 2015, and also plans to open its off-price Nordstrom Rack stores beginning in 2017.

The Canada expansion “gives us a chance to test, learn, and adjust with our business partners and technologists,” said Glasgow. “It’s allowing us to socialize the ‘vanilla’ implementations of Oracle solutions, and giving us practice managing the scope of these implementations.”

Nordstrom is still relying heavily on Oracle solutions, particularly in merchandising with Oracle Retail Merchandise Operations Management (MOM). This system is supporting international requirements around currencies and import/export issues, and Nordstrom is also taking advantage of new trade management and invoice matching modules that supplant older legacy applications for these functions.

Glasgow and Deby Hansen, Director of Program Management and Architecture for Nordstrom, identified key learnings from the Canada opportunity that include leveraging best practices identified in the Oracle Retail Reference Library, and using a process-led design approach that makes extensive use of personas and job roles. “By painting a full picture of a job’s process flow, it’s been easier to work through what’s been different from one system to the next,” said Glasgow. “We need to balance respecting our people’s business requirements with our motivation to stay ‘vanilla’ with these implementations.”

Nordstrom will apply these learnings as NGEN progresses, supporting long-term corporate goals that include sustaining the company’s growth, supporting its Nordstrom Rack stores becoming more of a separate entity, and “keeping us on an upgrade path that leverages our research and development investments,” said Hansen.

Congratulations to Nordstrom for their hard work and success. Nordstrom continues to impress the industry with their approach to the enterprise transformation. Read the press release or check out the presentation in the RACK to dive a little deeper. 

Monday Aug 18, 2014

NRF Online Merchandising Workshop: Where Online Retailers Are Focusing for Holiday and Beyond

Last month we attended the NRF Online Merchandising Workshop in LA, and it was a great opportunity to catch up with our customers, meet new retailers, and hear some great presentations from VF Corporation, Zazzle, Julep Beauty, Backcountry, eBags and more.

The one-on-one conversations with Merchants and the keynote presentations carry the same themes across companies of all sizes and across verticals. With only 125 days left (and counting) until Black Friday, these conversations provided some great insight in to what’s top of mind for retailers during the most stressful time of their year, and a sneak peek in to what they will deliver this holiday season. 

Some of the most popular topics were:

When to start promoting for holiday: seems like a funny conversation to have in July, but a number of retailers said they already had their holiday shopping gift guides live on their site, and it was attracting a significant portion of their onsite traffic. When it comes to timing, most retailers were questioning when to begin their holiday promotions -- carefully balancing when to release pricing and specials, and knowing that customers are holding out for last-minute deals and price drops. Many retailers noted the frustrations around transparent pricing by Amazon and a few other mega-retailers last year, publishing their “lowest prices of the season” as early as October – ensuring shoppers that those prices were the best they could get all season long. Many retailers felt their hands were forced to drop prices. Others kept their set pricing with negative customer reaction, causing some to miss their holiday goals. The pressure is on, and most retailers identified November 1 as their target start date for the holiday promotions blitz. Some are even waiting for the big guys to release their “lowest prices of the season” guides and will then follow suit.

     Attribution is tough – and a huge focus: understanding the path to conversion is a tough nut to crack, especially in the new omnichannel world where consumers use multiple touchpoints to make a single purchase, and internal management wants to know hard data. This has lead many retailers to invest in attribution; carefully tracking their online marketing efforts to determine what gets “credit” for the sale, instead of giving credit to the “last click.” Retailers noted that it is very difficult to determine the numbers when online and offline worlds collide – like when a shopper uses digital channels for research and then makes a purchase in a store. As one of the presenters from The North Face mentioned in her keynote, a key to enabling better customer service and satisfaction when it comes to converged online and offline sales is training the in-store staff, and creating a culture where it eventually “doesn’t matter what group gets the credit” if they all add to the sale. No doubt, the area of attribution will be a big area of retail investment in the coming years.

     How to plan for the converged world: planning to ensure inventory gets where it needs to be was another concern. In conversations with retailers, we advised them to analyze customer patterns: where shoppers purchase items, where the items were sourced from and even where items are returned. This analysis is very valuable in determining inventory plans. From there, retailers can more accurately plan and allocate inventory to support both the online and offline customer behavior. As we head into the holiday season, the need for accurate enterprise-wide inventory visibility, and providing that information to associates, is even more critical to the brand-wide customer experience.

      Improving the search / navigation / usability of the site(s): Aside from some of the big ideas and standard holiday pricing pressure, most conversations we had centered around continuing to improve the basics of the site. Reinvesting in search and navigation came up time and time again (FitForCommerce blogged about what a big topic it was at the event as well). Obviously getting shoppers on their path quickly and allowing them to find what they need fast is critical, but it was definitely interesting to hear just how much effort is still going in to honing the search and navigation experience. Adding new elements to search and navigation like typeahed, inventive navigation refinements, and new navigation categories like gift guides, specialized boutiques and flash sales were top of mind, in addition to searchandising and making search-driven product recommendations. (Oracle can help!)

      Reducing cart abandonment: always a hot topic that is top of mind for every online retailer. Getting shoppers to the cart is often less then half the battle; getting them to click “buy” and complete the transaction is much more difficult. While retailers carefully study the checkout process and where shoppers tend to bounce, they know that how they design their checkout page is critical. We’re all online shoppers in our personal lives and we know how frustrating it can be when total prices are not transparent (i.e. shipping, processing, taxes is not included until the very last possible screen before clicking that buy button). Online retailers are struggling with where in the checkout process to surface the total price to be charged to reduce cart abandonment, while not showing the total figure too early in the process that it keeps shoppers from getting to checkout altogether. Recent research shows that providing total pricing prior to the checkout process dramatically reduces cart abandonment – as it serves as a filter to those shopping within a specific price band. Much of the cart abandonment discussion leads us to…

      The free shipping / free returns question: it’s no secret that because of Amazon and programs like Prime, consumers expect free shipping, much to the chagrin of the smaller retailer. The reality is that if you’re not a mega-retailer, shipping is an expensive part of doing business that doesn’t allow most retailers to keep their prices low and offer free shipping. This has many retailers venturing out on the “free returns” path, especially in apparel. A number of retailers we spoke with are testing a flat rate shipping fee with free returns to see if they can crack the price threshold where shoppers are willing to pay for shipping with an added service. But, free shipping remains king.

     Social ads and retargeting: they are working, but do they turn off consumers? That’s the big question. Every retailer we spoke with during a roundtable on the topic said that social ads and retargeting (where that pair of boots you’re been eyeing on a site magically follows you around the Internet) work and are meeting campaign goals. The larger question many retailers are asking is if this type of tactic is turning off a large number of shoppers, even if these campaigns are meeting their early goals. Retailers also mentioned that Facebook ads are working very well for them, especially when it comes to new customer acquisition, serving as a complimentary a channel to SEO when it comes to engaging new customers.

While there are always new things to experiment with in retail, standard challenges are top of mind as retailers scramble to get ready for holiday. It will undoubtedly be another record-breaking online shopping season, but as retailers get more and more advanced with each Black Friday, expect some exciting things. This excitement needs to be backed by sound solutions and optimized operations. Then again, consumers are expecting more than ever, so I don’t doubt that retailers are already thinking about the possibilities of holiday 2015… and beyond.

Customers who read this article, also found value in the following stories:

Personalization for Retail:
Shop Direct User Experience Focus Drives Sales:
Making Waves: Australian Online Retailer SurfStitch:
What’s new in Oracle Commerce v11.1 for Retail
What the Content+Commerce Equation is Missing

Tuesday Jan 12, 2010

Advice from Tesco

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David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.

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