Fail like Amazon: Thoughts on The Consumer Goods Forum Global Summit

It seems that every day brings news about how retail and brands can better meet the needs of today’s ever-evolving consumer, and the almost unrecognizable generation coming on behind them.

I spent a really enjoyable few days at The Consumer Goods Forum 61st Global Summit in Berlin. Nearly 1000 delegates from retailers and suppliers from all over the world met to network and share thoughts on how to succeed in our industry – an industry that is accelerating at a truly remarkable rate of change.

It seems that every day brings news about how retail and brands can better meet the needs of today’s ever-evolving consumer, and the almost unrecognizable generation coming on behind them.

Take, for example, this month’s news of Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, a signal to suppliers and retailers that they must adapt—and quickly—to the demands of customers and competitors that are innovating in big ways.

It’s always Day One

You could feel it. Amazon was on everyone’s mind and there was a constant buzz around its intended acquisition of Wholefoods, something that was mentioned in almost every retail presentation.

It was standing room only in the special sessions, “Competing with Amazon: How virtual reality and Artificial Intelligence can deliver compelling customer experiences,” presented by our own Dr. Romesh Wadhwani.

And customer experience was a key theme with all speakers. When Amazon itself took to the stage on the last day of the conference, Sunny Jain, VP Consumer Product Goods, Amazon was keen to point out how their culture plays a large part in their success.

“It is always Day One,” said Jain. It’s a philosophy Amazon believes encourages an approach which is positive and where our staff is not afraid to fail, or change, or start again. 

Fish swimming awayIndividuals are appraised on the quality of their idea, and how well they execute it, rather than whether it was successful or not. This encourages bravery and a desire to be creative. (Related, as part of our lead up to our Xcelerate Retail Forums, we published a blog by Evan Anthony, Former Exec from The Kroger Company. Evan talks about the importance of talent and encouraging teams to take risks and not be afraid to fail.)

What makes Amazon so interesting is that it’s ultimately a technology company, not a retailer. So how is this advantageous? They’re perfectly positioned to grow and innovate, as any application of technology that results in an enhanced customer experience, in any part of their life, is open fair game for Amazon.

Shopping habits and better car drivers

Lionel Souque, CEO of REWE and Mike Coupe, CEO of Sainsbury’s both gave interesting presentations that focused on how companies can compete with ecommerce and discounters by recognizing the key role of store staff and how data enhances shopper understanding. Personal service and the human interaction is what makes shopping a true customer experience.

“We know our customer best” is one of Sainsbury’s 5 key philosophies.

Sainsbury’s offering in grocery, non-food (through the acquisition of Argos), and financial services enables them to join the dots using data. For example, offer cheaper car insurance to shoppers they have identified as low risk through their grocery spending habits; (purchasing a bag for life in-store, directly correlates with low car accident rate).

The tail wagging the dog… and the supplier

Panting dogIt wasn’t just retailers who recognize the value of getting to understand your customer better.

Nestle Purina spoke about how they are developing a direct-to-consumer approach through online communication and delivery to pet owners who, as a demographic, love information/conversation about caring for their pets.

A great opportunity? Of course, Nestle recognizes the “pull” for good content, so they have more touchpoints with their customers. More touchpoints and exchange with customer means, you guessed it, more information. And of course, knowing that customers don’t love carrying a 10-kilo bag of pet food home, also gives Nestle an opportunity to sell direct.

Data as a personal assistant

Capgemini, in collaboration with MIT, neatly illustrated how today’s technology and tomorrows data will enable us all to have an intuitive personal assistant that can make suggestions based on an increasing understanding of our lives.

“I notice from your movements over the last few weeks, you haven’t visited your aunt in hospital, shall I send her favorite flowers?”

AI can learn from habits and whereabouts and suggest actions to make the consumers life easier, more efficient—and for business—drive revenue. Our ways of working and of living will be very different in the very near future.

Symphony RetailAI will be hosting its Xcelerate Retail Forum in Boston, 2-4 October. We will be continuing this thread of customer centricity and the need to innovate at speed to compete with the likes of Amazon and new forces yet to surface in our industry.

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