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A look at what skills future business leaders need to have to tackle the challenges of an ever-shifting marketplace.

As consumers increasingly expect to be able to buy goods and services online or in a physical location as they choose, businesses need to offer a seamless experience, observes Dax Dasilva, founder and chief executive officer of Lightspeed POS Inc.

“A big mistake retailers make is viewing e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar as separate entities, because they’re not. To have success in the market, all branches of retail have to be seamlessly linked,” says Mr. Dasilva, a 40-year-old Vancouver native now based in Montreal. “It’s a way to build traffic.”

Key skills

Jennifer T. Lee, partner and national retail leader at Deloitte Canada in Toronto, is a founding partner of the national omnichannel practice at Deloitte Canada. She offers tips for retail executives on skills they need as they face the risk of disruption by competitors. (Deloitte)

Drive a customer-centric culture

Customer-centricity should be at the centre of all organizational meetings and initiatives – the challenging competitive retail environment, the increased pressure of tech companies becoming retailers, the rise of marketplaces and the shared economy is raising the bar on customer experience.

Ability to create and lead an insight driven organization

A C-suite executive must now combine a full suite of cross-discipline skills – marketing, analytics and business acumen – to drive an analytics-based insight driven strategy. Analytics is a competency that has become core to the C-suite executive skill set.

Ability to lead multifaceted teams

The profound shifts in consumers’ path to purchase and the amount of data available to an executive raise important questions about how C-suite executives and their teams must change in order to stay relevant and deliver what the business needs. Executives need to be able to create teams that bring strategy, operations, data science, data architecture, data visualization and design, in addition to change management, to solving any business problem.

Build strategic partnerships

No one organization can stay abreast of the exponential change happening in the market. The days of “build it all in-house” may be a business model of the past. Collaboration and strategic partnerships are the future. Ecosystem models are one of most efficient ways to build capabilities while tapping expertise. Ecosystems are complex and trusted relationships with key players in the market that allow for shared infrastructure costs, accessing highly talented individuals with specific expertise when you need it, and launching proof of concepts together.

His Montreal company, founded in 2005, provides cloud-based point of sale (POS) software for omnichannel commerce – or the integration of in-store and online sales systems – for businesses around the world.

Observing how much retail has changed in recent years, he advises today’s executives to consider consumer preferences.

“This is the age of the omnichannel consumer who shops on all channels and expects a certain level of information, service and experience,” Mr. Dasilva says.

Michael LeBlanc, senior vice-president of membership, programs and revenue at the Retail Council of Canada, calls omnichannel a growing reality for any sized business.

“There has been a significant change, a levelling of the playing field so to speak, in retail technology in just the past few years. We’ve seen vendors bring solutions to the retail marketplace that allow small independent and mid-sized retailers access to powerful technologies that were only a few years ago out of their reach.” Mr. LeBlanc says.

“Omnichannel consumer shopping behaviour itself is a powerful, and pervasive reality, and it’s still early days. Any technology that allows retailers to react, adapt and succeed in this environment will have a strong platform for success.”

It is becoming key to a retailer’s survival in today’s changing landscape, adds Jennifer T. Lee, partner and national retail leader at Deloitte Canada in Toronto.

“What’s happening right now is retailers are finding out that online isn’t a profitable channel. They have to figure out how to get the various channels to work together to avoid a duplication of assets,” says Ms. Lee, who helped author the Deloitte Omnichannel Customer Experience Index 2016.

Recently launched, the study examines the omnichannel experience across 12 categories, from mass merchandising and jewellery to toys and luxury apparel.

Ms. Lee, who spearheaded the report, identifies two key challenges for today’s retailer.

“There’s a dramatic drop in traffic to malls in the U.S. right now, and Canadian retailers should take heed. They need to better define the role of the store as part of the shopping network. Another threat is the rise of marketplaces that commoditize goods and services and therefore driving a brand experience is critical to survival,” Ms. Lee says.

Technologies that integrate functions can play a key role.

For instance, Lightspeed’s centralized management system integrates a company’s online, mobile and in-store offerings, giving retailers the ability to manage all inventory, sales and day-to-day business transactions with a single system accommodating multiple currencies and languages for global clients. Analytics and customer relationship management tools help companies personalize their service. The e-commerce platform also comes with hosting and security capabilities, traffic driving tools and customizable templates.

The majority of users come from the retail and hospitality sector and include restaurants and startups, as well as the Montreal Alouettes football team and international fashion and lifestyle brands such as Toms, the Kardashian sisters’ Dash Boutique, Heineken and Lacoste.

Though digital shopping is increasing, stores still play an important role in shaping the retail experience. E-commerce executives are wise to have both as part of their business strategy, Mr. Dasilva says.

“The physical store is still important in retail. But when the customer gets immersed in a 3-D representation of a store on a beautifully executed website, the relationship between retailer and consumer deepens,” he says.

On the other hand, he adds, “There are unique challenges to creating a profitable e-commerce-only store. We are now seeing some of these online brands opening bricks-and-mortar locations in part because of shipping and the high cost of returns. … But being in-store only won’t draw in traffic from online. With an omnichannel model, e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar retail work together.”

Mr. Dasilva further cautions retail executives to avoid the following mistakes:

Separating e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar

You can’t run separate systems in the hopes of wooing in customers and keeping them engaged. Omnichannel is the opportunity for the retailer to sell everywhere and to have multiple sources of revenue. It’s one dashboard.”

Causing friction

“Make the online experience seamless, make the entire experience of your store seamless. Look at Uber: It’s a seamless request and payment experience. We’re watching the Christmas season right now, to see how in-store and mobile payments are synced. Retailers need to make sure they are not wasting an opportunity to build on the traffic coming their way.”

Blending in with the crowd

“The encroachment of global companies is giving retailers everywhere cause for concern. But especially the independents. … Competing with internationals creates a bright spot for a store with an online presence. Studies show that 96 per cent of people are more likely to buy online if a physical stores exists. It gives consumers more trust.”

Focusing only on e-commerce

“It’s difficult to create profitable e-commerce stores. Online-only brands are opening [physical] stores because of shipping and the high cost of returns. … Having a beautifully executed website, a well-thought-out online presence, gets customers into your store to have a shopping experience that would include trying things on. If consumers try things on they may be be less likely to return the goods after purchase.”

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