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My name is Saif Rivers. I work for IBM. I lead our retail consulting business for the USA. It’s a fascinating time in retail. Many of our clients are really wrestling with the complexity of, essentially, how to run a large, functioning scale business. Of course, you think about the complexity of retail. It is ultimately a scale entity.
You’ve got consumers who are super demanding. They need to be motivated. They need to be satiated. They want everything. They want it now. They want it immediately where they are. Then you’ve got associates, ultimately, who are in a very demanding workplace. They’re wrestling with everything that, unfortunately, COVID brings, wrestling with customers that demand so much more, but equally, it’s now become a very competitive employment space as well. They can walk out of one job and walk into another one that pays very, very well. Retailers have to understand, of course, how to retain that workforce. Then furthermore, you’ve got all the complexity of global supply chains. Not only is it about bringing product now maybe out of country, into your store and then to your customer, but it’s how do I do that in a seamless, frictionless, ultimately low-cost way?
The growth potential for today in retail, it’s bigger than it ever has been. It’s really about conquering new boundaries, getting over hurdles that historically were unmaneuverable, but now given technology, given shifts in process, given market expectation, those things are now moving. Think about the use of things like AI within our operations. Retailers are using aspects of AI to do more than they ever have done, both in terms of answering customer’s challenges, in terms of increasing efficiency and getting better optimization from their team and better decision making. All of that means that, again, upside within retail is volumetric.
Many of our clients come to IBM, not because they want a small issue resolved or they’ve got an immediate low-cost impact. They ultimately want strategic change within their business. They have a hard, gnarly transformation problem that maybe they’ve wrestled with before and they just don’t know how to get over. That’s why clients are coming to IBM. We see several clients who are now coming to us and say, “I’ve tried to solve this problem, but it’s never been successful before. Can you, IBM, help knit technology with our people, with our processes and really structure that in a changed managed way that gets the best out of our operations?”
Another customer we’ve been working really closely with has been Boots, part of the Walgreens/Boots alliance. As many of you will know, they’re a very, very large pharmacy business in the UK and stretching into Europe, but we’ve helped them fundamentally change the way that they look at their digital interaction, helped with re-platforming, helped them look at how they get faster promotions out to the market. It’s just been a super collaboration of a brand with a huge amount of heritage in Boots, and, of course, the brand with a heritage and technology, being IBM.
We’ve worked with IBM for many, many years, but in the last two, three years, the transformation of the rate and speed and need for transformation based on customer needs has really altered. We see ourselves now offering so many more services online. We have a much larger volume of customers that want to access Boots as an online service. We want to be able to create an omnichannel capability where the experience of Boots in store is so close to the experience of Boots online. What IBM’s partnership with Boots has done, has enabled us to do that in an agile way, in a way that meets customer need, in a way that truly gives us a differentiator in how we go forward. That’s been based on new functionality, new capabilities online, new capabilities in the app, a new ability to check out, new ways of payment and move into the IBM Cloud so that we can scale up and scale down really quickly for things like Black Friday, peak moments and changes in how we deliver.
The world of digital commerce is fundamentally changing. We’ve seen many of our clients, of course, press hard into the world of omnichannel retail as well. The thing that I’m most excited about right now is the use of social commerce and how people are driving social commerce to make a much, much bigger impact than they ever have done. If I look back six months, maybe a year or so, people were trialing. They were testing. They were seeing what social commerce meant to their brand, meant to them using it, essentially, as a marketing lever. But now, many of our clients are being much more instrumental and much more thoughtful about saying, “I need to drive a strong commercial channel through the social lever,” and actually saying, “How do I make this scalable? How do I bring impact? How do I bring efficacy?”
We’ve also been working with major grocery brands, helping them ultimately increase their basket size, increase their customer base and really get their brand into, essentially, a brand new customer, a customer they were never able to touch before. That’s by revolutionizing the way that they have digital interactions with their customers, both drawing them into store, being able to transact out of store and then give them things like long-term meal planning, long-term healthcare services. It’s really changing the fabric of not only health and beauty and grocery, but the US consumer overall.