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A Sneak Peak into the Future of Retail Landscape

By Saqib .E. Awan, VP, Lightspeed Venture Partners

Saqib .E. Awan, VP, Lightspeed Venture Partners

Which are the upcoming technological trends in the retail landscape?

This is no easy time for brick and mortar retailers as e-commerce continues to attract consumers. At the same time, despite the doomsayers predictions, I think brick and mortar retail is not going away. However, only the retailers who embrace the digital channels quickly to meet customers’ expectations will be the ones who stay relevant. For instance, the acquisition of Flipkart by Walmart is a step in the right direction in WalMart’s continued push towards digitizing and providing customers a unified, omnichannel experience. On the other side, Amazon acquired Whole Foods to have physical presence in communities where their customers are. We can see then that the retailers—be it e-retailers or physical stores—are pushing hard to expand their presence both online and offline to provide customers with an omnichannel experience.

"If you're an IT executive in retail, technology adoption is a double-edged sword for you: on one hand, you need to rapidly adopt new technologies but on the other hand you need to mitigate risks and reduce costs rapidly – there is very little margin for error"

Retailers have to be able to give a unified experience to their customers such as engaging with them through web or mobile while offering seamless shopping experience in-store. So how do you do that? Technologies such as AI, AR/VR, and networking technologies can help retailers to improve customer experience and boost their revenue. The physical stores should provide personalized experiences to customers that are walking in by engaging with them in real-time using the latest innovations in beacon, BLE, and similar technologies.

What are some of the significant challenges in the retail landscape?

Technology continues to transform every aspect of how we live, work, and play. Accordingly, consumer behavior is changing rapidly. One of the biggest challenges that the retailers are facing today is keeping up with changing markets, customer preferences, and emerging technologies. So, if you're an IT executive in retail, technology adoption is a double-edged sword for you: on one hand, you need to rapidly adopt new technologies but on the other hand you need to mitigate risks and reduce costs rapidly – there is very little margin for error. In my experience, many IT execs have the perception that innovation is a big, hairy, audacious goal and it scares them away – nobody lose s their job for bringing in Cisco! To counter this natural risk-aversion, my advice to CIOs is simple: wherever you are today, push yourself 10 percent beyond your comfort level in terms of adopting new technologies and working with startups. So, if you’re not engaging with any startups today, make it your goal to engage with at least one by the end of the year, even if it is for a small project. If you push yourself 10% consistently every year, you will be amazed at how much more innovative you can become in just a few years.

In light of your experience and your discussions with CIOs, what are some of the best practices for engaging with startups and Silicon Valley?

It's challenging to be innovative and forward-thinking behind a desk, so you have to get out and meet people: startups, VCs, channel partners, customers, etc. However, that is easier said than done and many IT executives don’t know how to sift through the noise to get to the most promising startups. My advice is to identify top-tier enterprise technology VCs, look at their track record, and then build relationships with them so they can expose you to their investments and key trends emerging from Silicon Valley. This is one of the best ways to balance taking risks with new technologies with giving yourself a chance of finding transformative startups that also have a higher-than-average chance of survival and getting an edge over your competitors: Just imagine the advantage you would have had over your competitors if you were an early adopter for technologies like Nuatnix, Mulesoft, AppDynamics or Zscaler (all of which are Lightspeed startups).For this reason, at Lightspeed Ventures, we've created a CIO Innovation Advisory Network. Through this, we collaborate with forward-thinking IT leaders and CIOs on a regular basis and expose them to new technologies, emerging trends, and subject matter experts to help them solve their IT challenges and be more innovative.

How do you expect the role of a CIO in retail industry to grow in the upcoming years?

Businesses are on a constant journey of digital transformation. Retailers who want to stay relevant tomorrow will have no choice but to embrace new, emerging technologies. From that perspective, the role of the CIO becomes much more critical to providing personalized and omnichannel experience to customers. The retailers who stay relevant tomorrow will have CIOs who are thought leaders in both emerging technology adoption and overall business strategy.

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