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Consumerism Is Dead: Long Live Consumerism

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The world of retail has been through a transformational decade with the rise of ecommerce, coupled with advances in payment tech, and the expansion of the digital giants. A number of household names have slowly disappeared over the years as a result. Then, 2020 saw a seismic shift in consumer behaviour as people the world over were forced to avoid the high street completely and switch to shopping online, as a result of a global pandemic. 

Businesses that were already predominantly or solely digital have of course boomed. Ocado, for example, reported a 35% rise in sales to more than £2bn and enjoyed a tripled share price as shoppers avoided physical supermarkets. Within the same market sectors, direct competitors had vastly differing fortunes, depending on their digital capabilities. Primark, an established bricks and mortar high street brand with no real online presence suffered an estimated £1bn loss, compared to ASOS who enjoyed a 40% year-on-year increase. Paperchase went into administration and were forced to streamline by closing dozens of physical stores, whereas their online competitor Moonpig received a £1bn valuation. It’s no surprise then that retail organisations everywhere are embarking upon a digital transformation before it’s too late. So, what are their key priorities as they look to transform themselves into digital retailers and where do Finance teams fit in?

Digital Transformation:
Digital transformation sits firmly within the Finance team, with the last 12 months additionally adding remote working into the challenge. Not reverting to legacy systems and providing access to systems and data for Finance professionals working from home is essential but has also left a number of businesses susceptible to cybercrime.

Ramping up cybersecurity and its internal training, particularly in the wake of increased remote working, is a crucial element of digital transformation. With vast amounts of consumer data stored online, a cyberattack can paralyse a business and result in heavy fines and loss of reputation. Robust cybersecurity will mean the hackers will move on to easier targets.

Harvesting data and securing it is one thing, successfully using that data is another. The rise of the data analytics professional in Finance teams has been rapid as organisations look to get the most from their insight and drive their businesses forward, identifying opportunities, trends or issues that they can maximise or eradicate. One constructor in the Retail sector, for example, outperformed its competitors by spotting upcoming shortages in building materials in their long-range supply chain and bulk ordering accordingly. When others were forced to down tools, they were able to continue working.

Central Warehousing:
The demand for central warehousing is booming as companies look to meet the demands of their customers. Vast distribution centres in key, strategic locations are the only way to meet competitive delivery deadlines.

Companies who have adopted machine learning AI into their Finance functions as part of their digital transformations have not only seen a bump in productivity due to the repetitive, manual data entry tasks being automated, but have also seen an increase in employee satisfaction. With mundane, day-to-day tasks taken care of, Finance professionals are free to take on more meaningful, strategic work, which results in happier employees. These same companies are also therefore able to attract the top talent who want to work in an environment with the latest tech.

Remote collaboration:
While there was a difficult transition to remote working for many business leaders used to having their staff on hand, it has quickly become the norm for most of us. While Zoom fatigue can be an issue, those businesses who have concentrated on remote collaboration have prospered. Seeing leaders online, in their own homes and out of business attire, has levelled the playing field somewhat and given a louder voice to junior employees in many circumstances. Using video tech well, giving staff an equal chance to engage and make a difference, helps with overall productivity and corporate culture as well as employee engagement. To paraphrase McLaren’s F1 Production Director, “A virtual environment is not the same as being in the same room and that’s why it’s so important to encourage engagement and participation from everyone. What matters is every member of the team being real and feeling comfortable engaging from their own environment.”

Purpose has more meaning than ever. Employees genuinely buy in to their employer’s social agenda, and candidates today are focusing as much on an employer’s social purpose, such as an organisation’s stance on climate change or their intentions to be carbon neutral, as they are on their corporate agenda. Stating a purpose, such as Tesco’s ambition to use 100% renewable energy by 2030, needs buy-in of course, but no one will be more involved with how this commitment will be met than the Finance team, as they budget the project and align everything the business does to the agenda.

If digitisation is a top priority, then it’s vital that businesses attract the right talent to drive the change and take them to the next level. Every decision a company makes, both commercial and social, is critical to their success, more so than ever before if they want to firstly survive in a digital age and secondly gain a competitive edge over the rest of the field.

If you are embarking upon your digital transformation and would like to discuss specialist talent to help achieve your goals, contact us today.