Digital goals: what retailers can learn from Tour de France

Raj Mistry, Dimension Data
Raj Mistry, Dimension Data

Raj Mistry, group director, Retail, Dimension Data, shares critical digital transformation lessons that retailers can learn from the Tour de France, which took place earlier this year.

The Tour de France is the biggest cycling race in the world, attracting 12 million TV viewers for each of its 21 stages, and 6.5 million digital fans from across 190 countries. It is a testament to the benefits of digital transformation that a sporting event more than 100 years old can keep innovating and pushing the boundaries of the digital fan experience. This unwavering obsession to continually improve products and services is very relevant and timely for a hard-hit retail sector struggling to grow – especially for the bricks and mortar stores.

Data is the key to unlocking new audiences

Data collection is an area many retailers overlook, especially when concerning bricks and mortar outlets. Pre-2015, data collection during the Tour de France was also an extremely manual and labour-intensive process – with time checks and cyclist position often communicated by radio during the race.

The Tour de France technical solution places GPS trackers on each bicycle to collect the real-time positioning of every single rider, relaying this data to a big data analytics platform, which then combines different variables such as speed, gradient and altitude for predictive analysis.

Stores are beginning to follow this lead by collecting data that generates real-time, actionable insights, such as how and when customers and inventory move around the store’s space. Combine this with how each shopper interaction impacts measurable business outcomes; like foot traffic, popular merchandise areas and overall sales, and the result is a valuable tool that will enable the personalisation of the shopping experience. Retailers still have a way to go before they are realising the potential of data in their businesses.

Take an omnichannel approach

Retailers that fail to marry all of their respective channels into a cohesive experience risk sending capricious customers scurrying to the nearest competitor. When used correctly, omnichannel is much more than a buzzword used by desperate executives looking to impress their managers at monthly meetings.

At the Tour de France, the data and information collected bleeds across all channels. Social, mobile, website, TV broadcast: the data visualisations that brought the race to life are across every platform – delivering an unparalleled viewing experience. A true omnichannel retail experience needs to take into account every customer interaction, regardless of channel.

For example, if a customer finds a product in-store, are they able to scan it using the brand’s mobile app, to then purchase via their laptop later that evening at home? These are the fundamental solutions retailers should be serving seamlessly in order to for their physical assets to keep pace with online offerings.

Don’t overlook data security

The retail sector continues to be one of the most targeted industries for cyber-attacks. Since January 2017, at least 15 retailers have been victims of a cyber-attacks, including high-profile names such as Adidas and Dixons Carphone, according to reports.

The global exposure of a sporting event like the Tour de France puts everyone involved at risk from any number of cyber attackers looking to share, trade, or manipulate data. Its critical information is protected from these various threats, but without compromising the flow of real-time data that makes the event so compelling.

The Tour de France employs a next-generation security platform that exclusively operates in the cloud, allowing an almost instant response time to security threats. Another secret to this success is the level of collaboration across the race, with partners and sponsors working closely together to ensure protection is airtight. Responsibility is collective.

And this ethos extends across all industries, in particular retail, where the omnichannel approach is so critical. After all, if a customer doesn’t trust your e-commerce website to keep their details safe, why would they feel inclined to visit your physical store?

A retailer cannot abdicate accountability for data security – it’s the entire business that needs to own this responsibility, not just the IT department. Ultimately, it all comes down to owning the customer relationship, whether that’s digital or physical, which in turn, drives a consistent experience. And security and trust play a fundamental role in this relationship.

Departmental alignment

Within retail, there’s often a big disconnect between the IT function and the rest of the business: all things technical are dealt with in silos by the IT function, which makes it impossible for the wider business to support omnichannel.

Over the course of a year, a professional cycling team relies on much more than the riders in the saddles. The logistical operations involved in a race like the Tour de France means everyone has to be working from the same rulebook, whether it’s the drivers ferrying the team around France, the physios dealing with the aches and pains of riders cycling for up to six hours per day, or the caterers keeping everyone fully fuelled during the 21-day tour.

This level of collaboration means a professional cycling team is governed much like a business.

For many companies, its e-commerce presence sits separate to the main retail function, and all too often, a retailer’s website is not treated and managed as a shop, but as a piece of technology – an area invariably dealt with by IT. How can you foster a true omnichannel approach when there’s no incentive internally to do so?

Focus on creating experiences by empowering your employees

Telling stories and creating experiences are the ingredients that will ensure the survival and eventual blossoming of our bricks and mortars retail stores. We all know about the big players like Apple, Victoria’s Secret and Ikea, who mix meaningful with immersion, make personalisation accessible and intuitive for everyone, and underpin it all with a resonant human touch.

In a similar vein, one of the main reasons the Tour de France attracts such a large and varied audience is down to its ability to tell compelling stories. The vast amount of data collected every second means even the most fleeting and subtle tales won’t go untold.

The secret to achieving these benchmarks lies with the employees. Retailers need to strike the right balance between the human element of a customer interaction, and the technology its staff are using to facilitate that interaction.

Technology is meant to be an enabler and a supporting element in the customer relationship, however, it’s starting to become the primary point of delivering information to the customer, often at the loss of that all-important human element.

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