Carter’s Uses Tech to Upgrade Shopping

How can traditional retailers use technology to enhance the shopping experience? The VP of technology services at children’s clothing retailer Carter’s explains how to reach customers through unique shopping experiences and mobile solutions.

You have a broad range of tech experience in and out of retail—what sets retail apart?

Shih: Retail hits not only people in the business world, but your everyday consumers and people from all different backgrounds and from all corners of the world. I think it makes it an infinitely interesting industry, and it really serves as not just a case study in business, but a case study on how our society is actually evolving more than any other industry.

What makes a successful IT practitioner in today’s retail environment?

Shih: I feel like IT practitioners who get caught up or subscribe to a predefined way of doing things are really going to get left behind. I think you’ve got to have the IT skills  to do your job, but you also need the mentality that says, What I do today and what improvements I make today may not be applicable tomorrow. Things are constantly changing in our industry.

What are the keys to adapting to different generations’ shifting shopping habits?

Shih: I know that a lot of times people like to say they have a retail-first or a mobile-first approach, and I think it’s difficult to be successful if you go in with a “something-first” approach. Mobility form factors and considerations have to be included, I think, hand in hand with your brick-and-mortar experience, with your e-commerce experience, with any other channel experience. At any point in time, people are going to be coming in through those different channels, often simultaneously.

What strategies do you see retailers deploying to appeal to the millennial shopper?

Shih: You have a perfect mix of people with great access to information, the ability and expectation now that they can quickly process that information, mixed with what I feel like is a vastly heightened awareness for responsibility—whether it be socioeconomic, environmental, or to their own families. So you have this perfect mix of people who, frankly, have that burning platform to make the best decisions with their purchasing power, their time, their energy, what they choose to support, what they choose to “like.” And then you have that information about consumers. I don’t feel like we’ve had that perfect mix ever before in our history.

So how do retailers respond to that?

Shih: With all the technology, it still behooves all of us to talk to customers. The channels might be different—maybe you’re not doing focus groups, maybe you’re doing more social-media scanning, or maybe you’re doing more big-data analysis—but it’s hard to beat that one-on-one interaction.

How do loyalty programs and similar initiatives play into some of these strategies?

Shih: Creating experiences for customers is just as important now as the actual product or service that you’re offering. I believe customers will remember more how they came to use your product or make your purchase rather than what they actually acquired from you. I do believe that there will always be materialistic things and services people value, but I think loyalty will come in the form of remembering how they went about doing it.

What does the future of shopping look like?

Shih: I think you’re going to see the entire purchasing flow become much more of an event at the individual-experience level. So I don’t think it would be unheard of to view brick-and-mortar and other physical places as more social experiences and gathering places than spaces that actually perform transactions.

You look at a Tesla showroom, and I feel like that’s become a place for owners to gather around and trade stories about their cars and their trips. But meanwhile, I feel like those types of products and services are really being sold online. So the physical stores are more about experiences than strictly about sales.

What role do you see mobile playing in the future of e-commerce?

Shih: Look at something like Uber. It’s almost the perfect app for today’s world—it’s immediate, it’s instant. Because of the value and convenience, I think people are expecting that Uber-like experience in everything that they do. Why isn’t this more instant? Why can’t I get access to information and do a comparison? Why can’t this have a rating attached to it, so I can see what other people—not just strangers, but people in my own network—thought of this product or service?

I think that’s what mobile is able to bring because as long as we’re able to connect to the right data sources, we can provide that type of insight to people.