Contactless technology is going to continue to see a big boom in 2021 for obvious reasons; consumers want to feel safe and protected when they shop.
Personalization has been on every strategy checklist for the past five years, but it really needs to take a front seat. The value of making customers feel known plays a huge role in conversion, engagement, and loyalty gains.
A unified customer experience should always be a priority; this is how customers interact with an organization’s collection of channels. If it isn’t seamless, they will leave.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Conklin is the VP of Unified Commerce at Capgemini North America. Jennifer brings over 20 years of digital and commerce experience to help brands build world-class customer experiences for online retailers and branded manufacturers. She is actively involved in the Chicago community as a Girl Scout Troop Leader.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Glad to be here! My story really starts back in 2001 when the dotcom bubble burst and I was furloughed. My roommates at the time were starting a digital agency, and I joined as a project manager. I ended up staying at that agency for 12 years, and I went from a project manager role to an account manager to a managing director. I found my passion there; I really loved the account side of the house and working side-by-side with clients to solve their business problems. I knew Rich Lyons through a previous client, and after some discussion, I joined Lyons Consulting Group. When that company was acquired by Capgemini in 2017, it brought my two worlds together: I could keep working with clients to solve problems and focus on the retail space — an industry I had grown to love.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of the most interesting shifts in my career was my pivot into retail. I had worked in multiple industries before, but my career really took off and became more focused when I entered the retail space. That was unexpected and really exciting for me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
Back at the digital agency, I was working with a client to create a video for a major event. The whole team was proud of this video and we were so excited for the client to share it. However, day of the event we found out that we couldn’t show the video onsite because there wasn’t internet access. This was over 15 years ago, but we assumed that there was Internet. However, that experience taught me that you can never over-prepare — especially when it comes to serving your clients. Not everyone is coming from the same background, so you can’t assume that everyone has the same knowledge. Ask questions if you don’t know the answer — and you’ll always be prepared.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
More and more of my clients are expanding into consumer goods. The biggest question on everyone’s mind: How can you build out an effective direct-to-consumer channel? In some regard, most companies will face a D2C challenge, especially with the changes brought on by the pandemic. But for brands that don’t have a traditional digital retail mindset and don’t have brick-and-mortar stores — for example, a branded manufacturer that provides products to other retailers — introducing them to the world of retail has been a unique opportunity and it’s made us shift our mindset. How do you put yourself in your client’s shoes to better understand their challenges? The purpose of that branded manufacturer’s website is going to be fundamentally different than a website for a brand that’s sold online exclusively for years. By understanding that mindset, we can help our clients achieve their goals and create a digital experience that helps their business user handle change, navigate this new channel, and prepare for growth.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I always suggest to my colleagues and team that it’s important to take one to two hours every week to do some kind of career development. Whether that means reading articles, participating in a training, or listening to a podcast — it’s important to stay educated. During these pandemic times, continue networking and set up virtual coffee meetings. It’s easy to get worn down going through your checklist every day. You need to be aware of where you and your career sits and understand your impact and the value you bring. You shouldn’t feel guilty taking that time for yourself because at the end of the day it is a betterment to your team, your colleagues, and your company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Luckily, I’ve had many people to whom I’m grateful for in my career. In almost every one of my roles, I have been fortunate to have had a manager or a role model in leadership that has challenged my views or pushed me beyond my comfort zone. They have also acted as a champion for me and encouraged me to embrace more responsibility and grow my career. In my current role, I take being a leader seriously and hope that I can continue to return the favor of my past mentors.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As a mother of two daughters, it is important to me that they recognize their value and worth. I volunteer with the Girl Scouts and serve as the leader of two Troops (3rd Grade Brownies and 8th Grade Cadettes). I try to expose them to a lot of people with various backgrounds and different ideas. We build spreadsheets to analyze cookie sales. We visit cultural institutions. We learn independence and survival skills on weekend camping trips. We research and discuss successful women throughout history. I’ve been blessed to watch them grow and blossom over the last eight years — and it’s always what keeps me grounded and motivated.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
Logistically, we have come up with a lot of solutions to meet these new evolving expectations. Target’s adoption of Shipt is fantastic — and extremely convenient, especially since there’s no delivery fee. Most of our retailer brands have adopted curbside pick-up and BOPIS functionality, but that’s table stakes at this point. What’s most important now is making sure we are getting products into people’s hands. The process must be simple and quick. Organizations that implement that kind of technology will continue to win and dominate in the market.
In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?
I really think retail stores will always exist — they may not always be a prevalent part in our day-to-lives, but there are going to be products that I need to see in-person. I want to sit on my mattress before I buy it; I want to feel my new bath towels before I make a purchase. Sometimes I want to make a return in-person because the line at the post office is too long. And people like to shop — I don’t mean they like to buy things, they like to browse items and stroll through stores. Immersive, engaging experiences and experiential shopping will be important when people return to the stores. So I don’t think that behavior is going away. However, our infrastructure isn’t keeping up with this massive shift to online shopping. We all know shipping delays have increased — and not all brands that have moved online know how to communicate to customers. Brands that can clearly articulate that will see the most success.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Successful retailers know that all their channels are valuable — and don’t position ecommerce against brick-and-mortar stores. Invest in data and insights. Get to know your customer. Build experiences that support their shopping journey. Solve inventory and distribution. Break down internal siloes and reward your internal teams for omni-channel revenue growth.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) Contactless technology is going to continue to see a big boom in 2021 for obvious reasons; consumers want to feel safe and protected when they shop.
2) Personalization has been on every strategy checklist for the past five years, but it really needs to take a front seat. The value of making customers feel known plays a huge role in conversion, engagement, and loyalty gains.
3) A unified customer experience should always be a priority; this is how customers interact with an organization’s collection of channels. If it isn’t seamless, they will leave.
4) Follow the customer journey and take the time to listen to your customers.
5) If an organization isn’t data-driven in 2021, it’s data-led. Invest in technology that gleans new insights, allows brands to dig deeper, and ask bigger questions.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Mentorship. I would love to create a “spread it up” movement that connects people at various stages in their career for advice and mentorship. We are all just one conversation away from our next good idea. One of the major drawbacks from a virtual office during the pandemic is the loss of opportunity to interact with colleagues outside your immediate project team. We could call it “Office Cooler Connector.”
How can our readers further follow your work?
I’d love for you to reach out to me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeconklin/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!