As a business owner and communications industry veteran, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, President of Shikatani Lacroix, a Toronto-based branding and design agency, has seen a massive evolution in technology and customer/employee expectations over the last two decades. In part 3 of this multi-part executive Q&A series I will chat with Jean-Pierre about what industries are at the forefront of digital transformation.
Doug: Do you see particular industries or areas where digital transformation has more of an impact, more of a benefit?
Jean-Pierre: That’s a great question. I would say there is a balancing act happening between being disrupted and leveraging digital technology. Industries that are the most prone to being disrupted, who are vulnerable to new technologies or new business models are also the firms that need to, but not necessarily have, embrace digital more effectively.
I’ll use banking as a great example. Talk to any banker today, it’s not about omnichannel — that’s 10 years old. They were one of the first to develop banking platforms to create a digital online experience for their customers because they knew customers liked doing banking online. Now Fintech start-ups have developed technologies that allow you to transfer money and bypass filling out forms, eliminating friction for the customer in the banking industry. I think the banking industry is awake. They’re not going to let themselves be disrupted by Fintech, instead they are embracing Fintech technology and it has a huge play in what happens in the branches. Less and less consumers are going into the branches.
Those branches need to change their meaning and their value to their customers. It’s not about transactions; it’s about knowledge and empowerment. You are seeing the banks, the smart ones, slowly shifting their attention from transaction to knowledge and to empowerment. Where the teller now is enabled and empowered to talk about retirement plans, investment plans, and the financial security of the customer. This is a great example of an industry that has embraced digital, not because it’s a nice thing to have but because it’s a necessity for avoiding being disrupted.
I would say general merchandise retailers, such as Canadian Tire and Walmart, that are selling commoditized items is another industry that needs to wake up when it comes to digital technology since they are all about the transaction. They are about selling to the consumer. It’s about basket size and increasing the amount of products customers buy when they visit their stores. Digital can play a really important role at reminding them about things. “Miss Consumer, you know you bought toilet paper the last time you were here. That was a month ago. You may want to replenish.” “I didn’t think of it.” Most consumers who go to a supermarket don’t have a shopping list, so there’s a great opportunity to drive in pull sales for stores like Walmart and Canadian Tire, but they are not there. If you go to those stores that shelf activation using digital technology is still not there. They still haven’t figured out that basket size value, but the smart ones will.
Now, it’s all about big screens. It’s not about shelf. It’s about big screens creating a lot of excitement, which is great as it reinforces the brand is relevant. However, at the end of the day in that split second purchase decision – digital plays a very minimal role, and it shouldn’t.
Doug: So, what you’re talking about is a move from the large screens down to almost a personal experience at the shelf. Shelf displays can drive personalizing things and making things relevant to a particular consumer.
Jean-Pierre: I’m back to my reference to advertising. You can spend trillions of dollars building an image of the consumer, and then in the last split second the consumer switches to another brand.
To me, the model’s upside down and the money needs to be spent in the store experience. It needs to be spent when the consumer is making their buying decision. Not online, not on the radio. Those are great to build brand awareness but when most consumers can be switched at the shelf level, that’s where the real battleground is and that’s where the money should be spent.
That’s where big data plays an important role: the connection between mobile devices and all shelf communication. This is where the real battle can be won and where the smart retailers are going to invest their money. It reminds me of a little story from about four years ago. We were hired to do the reinvention of OfficeMax. Online sales had huge impact on the performance of the stores. The stores were an average 25 to 27 thousand square feet.
Our mandate was to create urban microstores, stores that were 17 to 20 thousand, even smaller than that. When we looked at digital signage, shelf signage, and we looked at the electronic ink – sign elements – and we costed it out. The client was very interested in having digital signage because it allowed them to change their pricing by zone, and then move very quickly at a competitive response. It was going to cost $300,000 for that in one store, so, imagine the multiple. The challenge still remains today and it is a huge nut financially for retailers to embrace digital. Those platforms today would be $100,000.
I think it’s more of a mindset among retailers. To say that flyers are their most effective marketing vehicle when, really, it is their stores that are the most effective marketing vehicle. Effectively communicating with the consumer at the shelf level is going to drive more revenue and sales for them than advertising, radio, promotions, stickers for businesses, and billboards. It’s just a mindset.
I think what digital has done is force organizations to rethink their business model. The business model before was “build it and they will come.” What digital is providing is a platform for people to re-evaluate their business model. So, you look at Loblaws, a market leader in the supermarket category in Canada. They’re smart. They’re digital. They spent their money on a loyalty program that rewards behaviour. Not just purchase, but behaviour – that is very smart. They’re now exploring order on your phone and pickup at a drive through. They’re exploring eliminating these anxiety points. I think most organizations now are being challenged through digital to re-evaluate their business model. If you’re not re-evaluating your business based on digital and you’re a retailer or a packaged goods company or a corporation, the odds are you’re not going to be around long-term.