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Meet The TRE: Sushant Warikoo

Get to know RETHINK Retail’s Top Retail Experts through the “Meet the TRE” Q&A series! Dive in to learn about a member of the thought leader community and follow their work and insights across our content and their social channels.

Sushant Warikoo is Senior Vice President & Business Unit Head, Retail at Cognizant

  • Name, Full Title, and/or Company

Sushant Warikoo, Senior Vice President & Business Unit Head, Retail at Cognizant

  • Tell us about your background

Sushant is a Senior Vice President and the Retail Business Unit Head at Cognizant. He oversees a team that is responsible for helping clients reimagine the future of retail with transformational experiences and innovative products and services.
Sushant is a seasoned global executive with demonstrated success in building products and businesses from ground up. He has guided the world’s leading companies through digital transformation and has used his skills as a technologist to build cutting-edge solutions. His expertise lies in harmonizing technological innovation with strategic business value and orchestrating disruptive industry plays. He is passionate about building high performing teams and helping leaders find pathways to exceed their potential.

Sushant has 20+ years of experience as a business and technology leader in multiple industries, including retail and consumer products, hi-tech, communications, media, and entertainment. Before joining Cognizant in 2020, he was an executive at Accenture and IBM.

  • Brief description of your current role and your space in the industry

Sushant serves as the Senior Vice President and Retail Business Unit Head across Americas at Cognizant. Cognizant is a multinational information technology services and consulting company that helps businesses modernize technology, reimagine processes and transform experiences so they stay ahead in an ever-changing world.

In his role, Sushant works with leading retailers to deliver seamless and engaging experiences across the entire customer journey. He also manages a team of leaders that help clients implement next-generation technology solutions to drive value and growth for their businesses. His team of 12,000+ associates are focused on reimagining and reinventing the future of retail.  

  • What challenges/opportunities are currently facing retailers?

One of the biggest challenge retailers are facing is adapting to shifting consumer habits. Especially over the past five years, consumers have come to expect hyper-personalized, seamless shopping experiences across the entire customer lifecycle. Attracting and retaining customer loyalty will only be possible if retailers deliver rich, immersive experiences that are powered by next-generation technology.

The associate experience also plays a vital role in transforming the customer experience. Giving associates access to the right tools and insights allows them to prioritize high-value tasks and improve their productivity. New AI and robotic tools across stores and distribution centers are allowing retailers and their associates to achieve elevated customer satisfaction, accelerated fulfillment, and lower costs.

Simply put: Creating cohesive experiences across channels and touchpoints is a must for retailers looking to stay relevant in the eye of consumers. Technology is the key to enabling this experience and fostering evolving relationships with customers beyond the physical confines of the store.

  • What hot topics or trends have you been seeing in the retail space?

Building off the above, consumer experiences have shifted from transactional to experiential. As the retail industry moves toward an experience economy, customers have come to expect higher quality, lower costs, and shortened fulfillment time.

Retailers with foresight are reimagining stores to captivate shoppers through narratives that unfold throughout the retail space. These experiences co-exist seamlessly across online channels and the physical world. For example, grocery stores are seeing a shift from being a place where consumers go to buy groceries to being a place where consumers can fill prescriptions, complete wellness activities, or meet a friend for lunch.

To facilitate these highly personalized experiences, it’s crucial for retailers to establish a cognitive neural network spanning all channels, beginning with an intelligent edge computing infrastructure and streamlined mobile-first technology for in-store operations. Examples of modernization efforts include location-based analytics, in-store geofencing, expanded product offerings, and convenient checkout solutions, all aimed at attracting customers and fostering consumer loyalty.

  • How has the retail industry changed in the past 5 years? What do you predict will happen in the next 5 to 10 years?

The retail sector has experienced various stages of evolution over the past five years. During the pandemic, online platforms became a primary focus, leading to substantial investments in online marketplaces and supply chain support. Immediately following the pandemic, we saw trends around developing a seamless integration of consumer buying behavior as individuals began engaging across multiple channels simultaneously, leading to a surge in social commerce.

Now, we have entered a new era where traditional AI is being replaced by GenAI. Retailers are struggling to harmonize their data assets, which serve as the foundation for AI infrastructure. But as the industry moves toward an experience economy where customer experience (CX), employee experience (EX) and partner experience (PX) are vital in driving growth, it will become increasingly more important for retailers to intensify their efforts to establish the necessary data foundation and technological infrastructure capable of extracting value from this data.

An estimated 95% of retailers will test and invest in GenAI to enhance product innovation, customer support and customer experience initiatives by 2027 The future of retail will rely on GenAI-powered advancements, such as: customer service agents and virtual assistants, advanced algorithms to analyze consumer data, enhanced checkout solutions and automated supply chains. During this period, the depth and breadth of the relationship between the brand and the customer will be paramount.

  • Which resources do you use to keep up with industry news?

I have frequent conversations with my clients to get firsthand insights into the biggest challenges impacting their business. Prioritizing interactions with clients helps ensure our strategy is aligned with emerging market trends and best positions us to help our clients achieve their business goals. The best part about working in this industry is that I am also a customer of many of the brands I service as a consultant and technology provider. That helps me put my customer hat on while helping my drive value for my clients and their customers.  

Cognizant also has a large presence at industry events, including the National Retail Federation (NRF). Talking to retailers about what it takes to operate a successful business in today’s economic climate gives insight into how our technology can help solve important challenges for their brands. It also gives us the opportunity to learn about the innovation in experiential commerce, intelligent supply chain and personalized loyalty solutions our partners are spearheading.

  • How do you continue to grow and develop as an influencer of the retail industry?

Staying informed on the latest trends, technology and customer behaviors impacting retail allows me to expand my personal knowledge of the sector. I use my LinkedIn account to network with other thought leaders in the retail industry and to learn about the challenges our clients are facing. Community forums like Top Retail Experts (TRE) help bring together influential retail leaders to hear different POVs, amplify voices, share customer success stories and understand where we can grow as an industry. 

  • What is the most critical change that retailers must make to face the future effectively?

As I mentioned earlier, the retail industry is experiencing a profound transformation, accelerated by recent global events. After the pandemic, consumer behavior has shifted, prompting retailers to prioritize in-store experiences. Today, stores serve as integral components of the physical-virtual retail experience. No longer are they simply hubs for transactions; instead, they offer immersive environments to consumers and take on a new role in the retail value chain by serving as fulfillment centers.

As stores evolve to be a place to entertain, it will become increasingly more important for retailers to connect their data infrastructures to be able to anticipate consumer needs faster and more impactfully. For example, it is expected that by 2028, 50% of retailers will offer AI-enabled contextualized recommendations to enhance customer engagement, increasing real-time interactions by 30% and overall conversion rate by 20%.

  • Who is making the greatest advancements in the industry, and what are they doing?

Cognizant is a part of a robust partner network that enables our products, services, and tools to seamlessly integrate with other platforms to drive more value to our clients. Our technology partners, including Microsoft, AWS, ServiceNow, Salesforce, Oracle and Google, and our retail- focused partners, such as Shopify, Manhattan, Kebo, Blue Yonder, o9, are key players driving business transformation within our industry and continue to be at the forefront of innovation. I look forward to expanding our relationships with our strategic partner ecosystem to drive differentiating value and transformation for our joint customers.

  • What is the best resource for people who want to dive in deeper?

Use your network to connect with other thought leaders and influencers in the retail industry to learn how to better serve clients, grow your team and develop your skills. Also, pursue networking opportunities with your peers to expand your industry knowledge and to learn how other companies are approaching client challenges.