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On October 7th and 8th the 2014 SAP Retail Forum was held at the historic Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Over the two days, SAP and its partners offered attendees informative design thinking workshops, thought leadership sessions, and retailer panels and presentations.

Here is a recap of the event.


Day 1 of the Retail Forum kicked off with a morning design thinking workshop on Investing in Consumer Insights. Participants discussed customer case studies and viewed product demos showing how the SAP HANA Customer Activity Repository (CAR) rapid-deployment solution can cut costs, increase inventory visibility, and reduce software complexity.

During the afternoon, two corporate social activities brought business leaders and bright young students together for some thought provoking design thinking workshops.

During the first session, retailers and students from BTECH, a new technology focused early college business high school based in Queens, New York brainstormed on how to build the Technology Workforce of the Future.

Up next, students from GENYOUth, a non-profit arm of the NFL and partner of SAP, pitched ideas to the group about what the Retail Store of the Future should look like. Participants gave students feedback on their ideas and coached them on how to turn their visions into reality.

The last session on Tuesday was the Women’s Leadership Panel. SAP’s Lori Mitchell-Keller opened the session with remarks about the Network for Executive Women in Retail and Consumer Goods and the launch of the Business Women’s Network. Lisa Walsh, SVP of Sales, PepsiCo then discussed the future of women’s leadership in retail. Debbie Hauss, editor-in-chief at Retail TouchPoints concluded the session with a panel discussion on the progress women have made in the retail business, challenges ahead, and what women executives do to achieve their goals.


Pat Bakey, EVP and Global GM Retail, SAP opened day two of the Retail Forum with a keynote session on the New Reality of Retail. Bakey said disruption is the new reality in retail and consumers are the source of change. Retailers are challenged to keep up with the rapid pace of disruption, but the risk of not jumping on the opportunities that exist is too high to ignore. By focusing on customers, retailers can knock down barriers to success and overcome complexity.

Matt Laukaitis, SVP and GM, U.S. Retail, SAP spoke next about Innovation for Retailers. Lukaitis said to thrive in an omnichannel environment, retailers need to focus on the why and the how instead of the what. When customers engage they expect companies to walk the walk. Retailers need to innovate and iterate quickly to thrive and extend the brand experience.

Stephen Dubner, Author of the international best-sellers Freakonomics, Superfreakonomics, and Think Like a Freak had everyone getting their freak-on with a thought provoking keynote on A Different Approach to Managing Data and People. Dubner said retailers shouldn’t use data to find declared preferences of consumers. To get ahead retailers need to use data to find out their undeclared preferences. In other words, retailers need to figure out what customers want before they do. Dubner also said new data and analysis can upset the applecart internally. Organizations need to adapt quickly, redefine the problems they are trying to solve, and ignore conventional or accepted barriers of the past. He also said to soak your buns in warm water - but if you weren’t there you won’t get it.

After Dubner’s keynote, Laukaitis and Katie Meyer, SAP Retail, Pre Sales demonstrated how some of SAP’s new solutions can be applied to the retail industry. Meyer demonstrated a concept application that could be used by an in-store sales associate at a fashion brand. The mobile concept app puts a 360 degree view of real-time customer information and preferences, sales history, client appointments, social media feeds, and more in palm of the associate’s hand.

After lunch, forum participants enjoyed a customer panel on Optimizing the Consumer Experience Across Channels and Devices, moderated by Brian Kilcourse, Analyst, Retail Systems Research. Panelist included: Mark Simmons, VP of Marketing and e-Commerce, Design Within Reach; Charles Nicholls, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, SeeWhy; Steve Fournier, Sr., Chief Customer Officer, Discount Tire Company; Andrea Weiss, CEO and Founder, Retail Consulting Inc.; Pat Bakey, EVP, Global Retail, SAP.

Weiss said people always talk about improving the supply chain in retail but the last mile in the store is between the associate and the customer. Some retailers are planning to have fewer stores but make them more entertaining to improve the customer experience. Simmons said Design Within Reach has reduced its store count by more than 50% and sales are higher. He also plans to improve the connection between store associates and customers with advanced digital tools. Fournier said his customers expect Discount Tire to know them well and that his sales team needs to be viewed as a trusted adviser. Weiss noted that the changes coming in retail will cause significant transformation of organizational structures and increase interaction at the C-level. Bakey said retailers need to proactively assess their organizational readiness and prepare to act.

Lori Mitchell-Keller, SVP and Head of Global Retail IBU laid out the Retail Solution Roadmap for participants. An overview of recently released innovations and enhancements in the SAP for Retail solutions was provided, as well as insight into what’s planned for the future.  Mitchell-Keller said the shopping journey of every customer is unique, complex, and cuts across channels. The SAP for Retail solution portfolio aims to make everything available via the cloud, enable a mobile first experience, integrate real-time processes, and run everything on SAP HANA. Customer Activity Repository, Fashion Management Solution, and Merchandise Assortment Planning with a Fiori user interface were hot solution topics.

During the afternoon three breakout tracks were offered to participants:

  • Fashion and Department Stores
  • Food, Drug, and Convenience Stores
  • General Merchandise and Hardlines

I attended the Fashion and Department Stores track.

Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief, Retail TouchPoints and Sahal Laher, EVP and CIO, Brooks Brothers Group, Inc. led a session called, Keeping up with the Speed of Fashion in an Omnichannel Marketplace. Laher said customers just want their stuff - so why do retailers still think in channels? To get ahead, retailers need to understand and react to customers faster than their competition. Laher also said speed is critical in retail now more than ever and companies need to look closely at business process not just IT for improvements. One of the ways Brooks Brothers is using SAP to simplify its processes is by standardizing its master data globally and making it accessible across all stores.

Sebastian DePreneuf, VP of IT and CIO, at Luxottica Group talked about Fulfilling the Promise of Optimized Omnichannel Inventory. DePreneuf’s battle cry is “simplify to reduce complexity”. Over the years, rapid growth through acquisition created a complicated business and IT landscape across the company and made omnichannel impossible. By implementing SAP, Luxottica gained a platform of rationalization said DePreneuf. A single global view of master data was obtained and a common repository of business intelligence simplified reporting worldwide. DePreneuf said the added flexibility of SAP supported growth, improved manufacturing management, and enabled the company to react quickly to post-recession sales patterns. Next, Luxottica plans to implement the new SAP Fashion Management Solution, which will simplify the crossover between its retail and wholesale operations and improve its Omnichannel strategy.

Jim Fields, VP, Customer Experience Marketing, SAP and Bob Many, VP, Platform Solutions Group, SAP led an interesting session on Retail in the Big Leagues. Sports leagues such as the NFL and NBA and teams such as the San Francisco 49ers and the German National Football team are using SAP software to improve operations and the fan experience. Big Data insights and mobility are powering a new class of personalized fan experiences on-line and in the stadium, improving player performance on the field, and optimizing sports management. Fields and Many revealed the similarities between the sports and retail industries. They demonstrated new technology SAP has developed for sports and how a few forward thinking retailers are experimenting with it to get closer to their “fans” and improve sales.

Overall, SAP Retail Forum 2014 was an informative and entertaining experience that brought together leading retailers, thought leaders, and IT vendors. Hope to see you there next year!

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