The Future of Retail: Q&A with Bluewolf’s Commerce Leader Katie Dunlap

The sweeping disruption of retail is pushing companies to think beyond point-of-sale and develop a data-driven relationship with customers. Creating opportunities for customer engagement allows brands to capture behavioral data and transaction history that can inform predictive and proactive sales, service, and marketing. But how can retailers empower marketers, merchandisers, and commerce leaders throughout the entire customer lifecycle to deliver a personalized, simple, fast customer experience? We talked to Katie Dunlap, VP, Global Unified Commerce & Marketing GTM at Bluewolf to answer.

You work with many of the world’s most prominent brands. What are the top challenges you're seeing in the market today for global retailers?
The retail industry is in a state of significant disruption–those retailers that pivot quickly and see an opportunity to transform will succeed. Retailers need to provide a meaningful shift in the way they engage with their customers. They need to leverage the extensive digital footprint left behind by customers to drive a higher level of engagement, loyalty, and service. They also need to use data collected from EVERY area of their business to highlight inefficiencies and streamline business processes, which most recently means engaging smarter with supply chain activity.
Where are the most innovative retailers placing their bets? What are they prioritizing and investing in?
Retailers are investing in smarter engagement strategies, powered by AI, for the customer experience, service, fulfillment, and operations. Offering customers with more personalized and transparent experiences throughout the ENTIRE customer journey is where most folks are placing their bets. This takes the journey beyond the omnichannel conversation with personalization on the front-end, through smarter experiences with service, as well as supply chain and fulfillment.  Offering real-time, seamless support on orders, predicting issues and making modifications as well as offering a variety of flexible and expedient delivery options, such as same-day delivery and/or the ability to select delivery from stores or DCs. Operational efficiency is a place where retailers can impact customer service experiences while increasing profitability by leveraging a complete view of supply and demand across the enterprise.  This is a starting point for optimizing areas such as fulfillment and inventory utilization across channels.
How do you see AI transforming retail?

AI is playing a much larger role in how we understand our customers.  Retailers are using science to understand how consumers respond to everything–mobile experience, new promotion, service experiences, as well as changes offered in delivery, pricing and return process.  AI subsequently powers a change in the way we interact with customers–we are even seeing it have an even greater impact when it is applied to supply chain data. Today the entire enterprise has become part of the customer experience. We strongly believe that “smarter retailing” delivers on the promise of superior customer experience while operationalizing the Retailer's business for maximum efficiency, effectiveness and return. With AI, retailers can now optimize with a complete view of store inventory, price/promotion management, distribution, transaction experience, fulfillment and much more.  AI empowers retailers to have the right information at hand to provide great customer experiences by delivering the right product, at the right price, across varied channels–at the right time. 
If you could sum up "the future of retail" in one sentence, what would that be?
Build a human to human relationship with your customers through AI-powered engagement: collecting the right information, gleaning the right insights to deepen your relationship, and continually learn about one another to drive for mutual success.
Where can retailers today make the most immediate impact on their business? What advice do you have for retailers who may be struggling to take the first steps toward change?

Start where you are now–take a true assessment at your current state and be clear where you would like to go. Leverage current investments where possible to ensure your strategy is agile for growth and change, and partner with experts that can guide you through this process successfully.  Not everything needs to be changed, and it does not require an enormous amount of information to make a few key adjustments that drive high returns. Be cognizant that business transformation is a continual learning and engagement process that has no end.
Where do you see the value of IBM and Salesforce partnering for Retail?

IBM & Salesforce are uniquely positioned to support a customer/retailer where they are in the current state and provide the very best of both worlds by taking a highly personalized, AI-powered customer experience to the next level, making customers happier and Retailers more effective and efficient.  We support a retailer through unlocking the power of their data to personalize engagement at scale, drive smarter retailing, and design more agile, customer-centered business and supply chain operations. By integrating Salesforce with IBM’s industry-leading enterprise AI solutions, companies can unify enterprise-wide customer insights to activate intelligence across the customer journey and all business operations.

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Bluewolf, an IBM Company, is a global consulting agency and proven Salesforce strategic partner that builds digital solutions designed to create results. Now.