Retail technology view from the top: Wipro's Anil Rebello

As new systems and digital capability continue to evolve the way retailers run their businesses, Essential Retail will be gauging the views of the sector's main figureheads, via a series of exclusive interviews over the coming months. This week, it's the turn of Wipro's head of retail for Europe, Anil Rebello.

New technology – in particular the fast evolving capability of mobile phones – is radically changing the way retailers need to behave. Ten years ago there was no such thing as a head of mobile at a retail business, but now it is a crucial job within an organisation.

The concept of mCommerce is now central to many retailer's digital strategies, with recent research from Martec International suggesting that retail businesses now experience 4.8% of their total sales from mobile devices – which equates to about half of their online sales.

Mobile and its suitability for real-time proximity marketing and on-the-move access  to social media also provides an appropriate platform for engaging with customers – and in ways that would have been unthinkable little more than a decade ago. Anil Rebello, head of retail for Europe at Wipro, believes the new marketplace requires retailers to change their behaviour when dealing with customers.

"What we are trying to understand a little better is the whole concept around customer conversation, rather than transaction – it's a very difficult thing for a retailer to understand because the way their business works is all about closing a sale," he told Essential Retail.

"It's about developing a brand and having a conversation with the customer and hence creating a perception in the mind of a customer. With the mobile world we live in, having the right conversation at the right time has become critical."

With customers' purchase journeys now more complex than ever and often involving multiple channels, Rebello said it is vital retailers understand when they should engage. When shoppers are in "discovery mode" for example, he said, it is important to offer price comparison rather than promotion as it will give them a better chance of closing the deal.

According to the Wipro retail boss, the UK's leading retailers are still quite a distance from achieving this mind-set – primarily because they are still grappling with the concept of 'going omnichannel' and ensuring all of their back-end systems are sufficiently prepared for modern retailing.

Much of the behind-the-scenes work and systems integration – services that Wipro offers a number of large businesses across Europe – can help retailers gain a single view of stock no matter where a customer decides to place an order. Efficient management of sales and customer data can also lead to a better understanding of shopper behaviour, and it is this concept of analysing big data that is high on retailers' priority lists.

"Embarking on the transformation journey, some are looking at quick fixes and some have put in place big back-end engines to pull data, but in general retailers are quite far off," warned Rebello.

"If you can't identify your customer, how are you going to have a conversation with them? It's a difficult situation for retailers because culturally they have to change."

Despite the challenges retailers face, Rebello is confident that they are moving in the right direction.

For the fourth year in succession, Martec's report - which was sponsored by Wipro - indicated that eCommerce is the top priority for retailers. Store systems and supply chain, respectively, were the next two investment priorities for businesses operating in the industry.

"I think retailers do have their priorities in order and they understand the problems; it is just the next step around how they implement the solutions," said Rebello.

"Ecommerce, store systems and supply chain are the core areas, but it's all about creating the right shopping experience."

One high profile retail transformation programme Wipro has been involved in recent years is UK grocer Morrisons' multi-million pound IT infrastructure overhaul and move to an Oracle-based platform. In 2007, the supermarket group set out to spend £310 million on a six-year tech upgrade encompassing all parts of the supply chain.

In a hugely competitive UK grocery market, Morrisons has been battling hard for market share and announced losses of £176 million last year, and a price restructuring programme that will place it in more direct competition with the fast-growing German discounters Aldi and Lidl.

Much of its hopes have been pinned on a new loyalty scheme, which it will use to offer more personalised, targeted customer marketing. Rebello said the Yorkshire-based retailer now has "a strong engine" at the back and it will "only be a matter of time" before they get real value of it, emphasising that it was the right moment for the business to make its infrastructure investment.

"You've got to get the foundations in place," he explained.

"If you look to the telecoms market, for example, companies have made investments in integrations, integration platforms and master data – but the retailers never did that. It was all about living every day for them, but it's now an important time to face up to the challenge."

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Martec International