Dynamics Matters Podcast: Ep 19 - How retailers can get ahead and stay ahead

With special guest Colm McArdle, Microsoft’s Retail technology expert

✔ What Microsoft has to offer to retailers to stay ahead?

✔ How can retailers keep ahead of the competition?

✔ How to deliver a more personal customer experience?

Podcast summary:

How retailers can get ahead and stay ahead

Welcome to you our lovely listeners to the HSO Dynamics Matters podcast. Your regular sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology-related matters and much more besides. I’m your host Michael Lonnon, and today I’m joined once again by  Microsoft’s Retail technology expert Colm McArdle. In this episode, Colm gives his unique and learned perspective on how retailers can keep ahead of the competition by delivering a more personal customer experience, and it starts with the mastery of just one thing. So, grab a brew, sit back, relax, and listen in to discover what it is.


Michael Lonnon 00:00

Pint of Guinness or pint of Carling?

Colm McArdle 00:03


Michael Lonnon 00:05


Colm McArdle 00:06


Michael Lonnon 00:07

Yes, I thought I had a banker there were the Guinness question. Bath or shower?

Colm McArdle 00:12


Michael Lonnon 00:13

save or spend?

Colm McArdle 00:14


Michael Lonnon 00:18

Improve what you have or replace what you have?

Colm McArdle 00:21


Michael Lonnon 00:23

Oh really?

Colm McArdle 00:24

Yeah, I’m guilty of frivolousness.

Michael Lonnon 00:30

I’ll ask you this if you put a hole in the wall, would you buy a picture to cover the hole or would you fix the hole?

Colm McArdle 00:40

I would fix the hole? I couldn’t live with myself.

Michael Lonnon 00:49

But happy to spend

Colm McArdle 00:52

Pay somebody to fix the hole.

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Michael Lonnon 00:55

So in terms of that theme of replacing what you have or improving what you’ve got, when it comes to retailers staying ahead of the competition would say because technology can be quite expensive, it’s not always practical to rip out and replace and not always practical so I guess why is it not practical and why don’t you just rip it out and start again?

Colm McArdle 01:28

It’s a really good question, any investment that any retailer make needs to take into account strategic investment and these are the core of what they do, and would be forward-looking, that being said, I really hate overplaying what’s happened in the last year, the amount of panicked customers coming back to us for help to enable them to adapt has been surprising. Things are always changing, the only constant is change. But in retail, I don’t think buyers trends are changing a lot.

There’s always been this trend that we want more, we want it faster, we want it through multiple channels, and we want to get experience. I just think what’s happened is it’s heightened as more people want all of that. I mean, on some work that we’ve been doing with, certainly within Microsoft and looking at this, versus the way that we architect our technology is looking at more and more customers do expect a more relevant personalization on any purchase, somewhere in the region of 80% of consumers will leave the website, if there’s no free shipping.

Michael Lonnon 03:08

I didn’t know that, interesting …

Colm McArdle 03:09

In general, consumers will check somewhere in the region of eight times to track the shipment of their product. Somewhere in the region of about 70% of consumers are just generally unhappy with returns policies so suppose those trends have always been around but not as heightened. I think any investments in technologies need to be certainly cognizant of those buying trends, but the ability to deal with them fast is important because those customers won’t be around forever.

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Michael Lonnon 03:58

So those retailers who have made those investments, they already have the platform, the foundation, is it easy for them to improve and adapt it? As you say, things change and evolve, but they don’t change so much where you need to change everything. But are things adaptable enough now to evolve rather than change.

Colm McArdle 04:25

They are and if they are unable to adapt, then you are with the wrong technology stack. One of the first things you want to call out here is that before retailers start to review and assess whether or not they do want to change technologies actually do they understand their buying process? Number one would be do they have a data first strategy, then secondly, being able to connect the data between the sort of four key tenants across any organisation, that being what’s happening with your customer, with your employees, your products, your operations, and really capturing all of that data that’s flowing between all of those parts within your organisation and using that data to drive better outcome across all of the four tenants. The journey does not stop at purchase and fulfilment. Customer demands could be broken into three key areas understand, orchestrate and engage, and without getting into too much, quite simply it is number one understanding what is the customer journey? Where did the customer come from and where do they end up? What were they interested in? Why did they leave your site? if you don’t understand that, you’re not in a very good place and most organisations should be if they’re not already investing in these kinds of solutions.

Michael Lonnon 06:38

I know, you’ve got three points here, but I want to pick up on the first point, how many of the retailers that you engage with do you think really understand their customers buying? Who has taken themselves on the buying journey? Do you think enough of them have?

Colm McArdle 07:25

No and I know that we work with some amazing customers and almost all of them we are talking to about this very topic. What we’ve done is broken this solution away from the main platform and made it to be a composable module or a composable piece of technology, it doesn’t need to have our technology and we are really enabling customers quickly and simply to review the data that’s happening across the organisation, to capture all the touch points that their customers are making with them and then provide the feedback on what’s actually happening. That data however is no good without them picking action, so customer X has been on this journey, and they/we were able to identify all of these key touch points.

However this useless if you don’t then take that and put it into something relevant for that customer the next time So you’ve got the data, you’ve got the insights so where do we pop up where we can add a personalisation or where we can we can add a recommendation. Lastly, engagement channels, this is really where you’re digging into where your customers are in the digital channel, but also then in the stores. What does the experience look like, what can an employee do in store that’s meaningful? Or if the consumer picks up the call centre telephone, you’re able to understand what’s happened in that empowered journey.

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Michael Lonnon 09:16

Do you think most retailers are realising this is a journey they need to pick up on? This is information that you need to understand, and they are trying to do something about? Do you think there’s a positive reaction to this generally?

Colm McArdle 09:27

Absolutely. I think we’ve come out in the back of the last year and customers do have the solutions in place. Everyone has a call centre, everyone has a store or devices but the data they have is unconnected it’s disparate, and it’s unrecognisable in its current form. That’s where the biggest challenge for customers is – how to connect that data and to start to drive that meaningful insight. If they’re not, they will be left behind quite quickly, because of the heightened buying trends and customer behaviours that we are seeing.

Michael Lonnon 10:20

I think about it as almost a standard I gravitate more to retailers and companies that offer me a little bit more of a personalised experience. It doesn’t have to be a lot just enough to let me know that they know who I am and what I’ve done. So I ask this question when it comes to the prioritisation of those retailers who are looking to create a better customer experience, where should they begin? Would it begin with data and connecting that data as a first point?

Colm McArdle 11:06

Absolutely. They already have the data but they don’t really know what to do with it, they need help in harvesting the information. You can think data first, but then secondly, reviewing the technology stack then the solutions that they have in place in order to do that. An example of this is pop ups, people are concerned about companies knowing much more than they would like. They know you bought items, maybe a shirt but I don’t want you to know much more than that about me.


Data. Increasing value of engagement always comes back down to data. How it’s being managed and then used to increase value. And this was a point Colm wanted to emphasize when asked how retailers can get ahead of the competition, start with data.

If you can figure out how to capture, manage, govern, then extract the insight it has to offer – it’s how you then use it to pop up at a point of the engagement that becomes meaningful for the customer. That’s where retailers can differentiate themselves from others.

I hope you enjoyed this episode!

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