Retailers have had a tough time. On top of struggling for years with the death of the high street and the transition to online retail, the COVID-19 pandemic came along and supercharged the take up of e-commerce and online shopping. And it’s a trend that shows no signs of reversing.  The pace of technological change increased exponentially for retailers and many struggled to keep their heads above water. In the last few years, Top Shop, Warehouse, Oasis, Debenhams, House of Fraser – among others – have bitten the dust. The retail graveyard is littered with victims.

Keeping pace with digital change

The sheer volume of the technological change that has been needed, coupled with an increasingly competitive marketplace driven by customer demand and diminishing customer loyalty, has meant retailers have had to embrace digital transformation and do it quickly to protect revenue and margins. Retailers have to be able to deliver value early and safely, back the right ideas and deliver outcomes successfully (without breaking the business). And most importantly, they need to adapt quickly to the shifting demands of customers.

It’s not easy. With the headwinds of burgeoning inflation and supply chain issues, investing in the wrong transformation project could be disastrous. So how do retailers ensure they always back the right digital initiatives? There are three simple steps:

  1. Digital Change Triage: implement a regularly occurring forum where each new idea is presented to the team. Think about presenting ideas using a one-page ‘Agile Lean Canvas,’ an alternative to a business plan, but more visual and allows the product owner to outline business value and success metrics. It also enables the delivery manager to talk about the development cost at a level that enables the leadership team to quickly approve or reject new ideas with the clarity they wouldn’t get from a business case. Digital Change Triage should be part of your regular business activity.
  2. Idea Sizing and Prioritisation Review: this part of the process will help you to quickly process the next batch of new ideas, in terms of their t-shirt size (big, medium, small) and their priority to the business. This allows the digital project management office (PMO) to determine if the idea can be implemented using existing capacity, or if more might be needed. At this stage, you can have a discussion about whether to get extra resources.
  3. Digital roadmap (the output): a plan of priorities that can be carried out by the existing team. The roadmap acts as a contract between the ‘demand’ (the business owners) and the ‘supply’ (the digital organisation). The ‘supply tribes’ and ‘agile squads’ in the latter can get on with executing their actions in the digital roadmap straight away.

Obviously, it also takes a culture geared up for the acceptance of innovation. And a flatter hierarchy in terms of idea generation, consideration and acceptance. But following this three-step approach will help retailers to choose and deliver the right digital initiatives consistently. And by doing that, delivering the world-class experience their customers demand – and deserve.

Adrian Mangan is a Partner and retail expert at Valcon Consulting.