Retail Worlds Q&A
Written by Scott Thompson
Retail Systems chats to Alison Wiltshire, head of retail and consumer goods industry practice, BT Global Services
Retail Systems: How did you get into the retail/technology sector?
AW: Having started out in advertising working on consumer goods and retail accounts, initially on Coca Cola, I got deep insight into consumer products. I then went over to the client side as an international brand manager, where my role included developing a better overall customer experience and overhauling retail and food operations for an international leisure attraction.
Incorporating this experience, I started at BT as a consultant/bridging manager with responsibility for the marketing of 100 retail stores on the High Street, including their redesign and launch of several concept stores – I then took a year-long secondment to Italy when BT and its partners had won the fourth mobile network to locate, purchase and design stores to see mobile products and services to customers. Working in both retail and technology, I understand the challenges of joining up retailers and their in-store operations. It is essential to have an integrated 360 degree view, not just a single customer view, but a single retailer view, communicating and delivering the experience while maintaining operational efficiency.
RS: Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
AW: Rather than a person, my biggest influence on my career was an opportunity: living and working abroad. Seeing the stylishness of the flagship stores in Milan and the welcoming, friendly and genuine customer service in Italy has followed into my current role at BT. This is something that we try to emulate and replicate in our Alexander Black immersive retail showcases and our stands at key industry events, including recently at NRF. They aim to demonstrate how customer experience can be enhanced with in-store digital technology either for the customer to interact with – or by putting technology into their hands.
RS: Who in the sector inspires you and why?
AW: Different people have inspired me at different times: Sir Stuart Rose; Sir Philip Green; and Giorgio Armani (extended the Armani brand but still retains overall creative control). Also, Andy Street, managing director at John Lewis as he is a frequent guest on LBC and I always enjoy listening to him and his opinions on the retail sector. John Lewis is a traditional brand that successfully continues to reinvent itself, embrace innovation, adapt to customer expectations while being “never knowingly undersold” it avoids devaluing its brand with promotions.
RS: Which IT professional do you most admire?
AW: Two people spring to mind: the first is Steve Jobs. He transformed and redefined mobility in the 21st century, not just with devices but what they are designed to do and how we interact with them due to the intuitive iOS platform. The secondly is Bill Gates because of his philanthropic approach. Since stepping down from his full-time job at Microsoft he has dedicated his time to finding solutions to both global and local problems.
RS: Is there anything that you dislike or that frustrates you about the sector?
AW: The mis-match between investment in technology across all channels. The sector is only now realising that they need to invest in IT within the physical stores. Over the last 10-15 years, the majority of the investment has gone to other channels to the detriment of the stores. This has led to retailers implementing niche solutions, resulting in their business and channels operating in siloes, meaning they miss the benefits of an integrated approach across all channels.
RS: What technology can't you live without?
AW: My iPhone and iPad. Being a frequent traveller, I need to constantly be connected to work, friends and family. These devices are so intuitive and provide me with instant access to email, apps or information that I need on the move.
RS: How do you relax?
AW: Catching up with friends and also playing tennis and swimming. But my real passion is discovering new cities and cultures. Whenever I travel I try to find additional time to explore the towns and stores to further enhance my international perspective on the retail industry.
RS: What was your last retail experience both online and on the High Street and were they positive experiences?
AW: My last High Street experience was in Kate Spade’s flagship store in New York when I was at NRF. I was approached spontaneously by their VIP Personal Shopper (whom they call a muse) and had a fantastic and genuine experience. They showed me around the store, new product lines as well as what would be coming to London. For online, it was ordering a Mary Berry cook book on Amazon, and as an avid user of Amazon Prime I feel hard pushed to find a better experience when it comes to meeting customer expectations for delivery – order late Saturday afternoon, on my doorstep just after 08am on Sunday!