The COVID-19 global pandemic was a catalyst for most retailers to initiate a full review of their tech capabilities and quickly develop a wish list of what they might need to add on to survive. Internal capabilities were tested and expanded to accommodate working from home. Weekly business meetings and line reviews were relegated to Zoom. Leaders were challenged to keep their teams engaged and at ease about the state of affairs, offering Zoom happy hours to stay connected and motivated. Cross-functional capabilities were tested, and we discovered as Merchants that our creativity can learn to flourish in a new way; without global travel, we were reliant solely on sketches, tear sheets, and even more Zoom in lieu of international travel and scouring the globe for the next big thing. Last and most importantly, we all had to pivot to figure out new ways to transact with our customers. E-Commerce platforms where Merchants tend to offer endless aisles of SKUs suddenly became our only avenue to convey our most edited point of view of our vision for our brands. BOPIS became a household term that I heard the TODAY show team mention time and time again as the newest buzz word of the holiday season. Simply stated, omnichannel retail has been in the midst of a flurry of tech needs, wishes, and options for years, but 2020 was the moment of truth where we all had to take our attention off of Monday sales reports and seasonal trend boards to ensure we developed a tech strategy to leapfrog us into 2021 and beyond.
As a head merchant, we are the voice of the customer, the head cheerleader of the brand, and the keeper of staying true to vision and identity of the customer and brand. Those of us who had the pleasure (and the pain) of growing up in iconic retail brands know the first question we ask ourselves on any decision is “is it right for her/him (the customer) and is it right for the brand.” I challenge every retailer to make that your first decision point in your tech strategy as we all navigate a new day with higher customer expectations. It’s so easy to get lost in a sea of amazing tech capabilities for your team and your consumer—but make sure your roadmap for your brand is authentic to what your customer actually needs and wants. I am a firm believer that there is a benefit to a strong omnichannel presence where your brick and mortar and e-commerce experience should be perfect compliments of one another. I believe the customer should be able to choose when and where to transact with ease from her home, her phone, curbside, or standing in your brick & mortar store. Further, merchants are resilient in their passion for creativity and style, and I’m so excited to see what retail looks like in 2021 as we all spent the better part of 2020 challenging ourselves to create the best assortments and best experience in virtual ways we never dreamed of before. I know that 2021 will be a continuous rollout of new apps and technical experiences for our consumers, and my merchant point of view is that whatever path you choose makes it authentic to the needs of your customer and the soul of your brand.