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My role affords me the opportunity to travel and visit customers across the globe.  Yet, what I really enjoy is when we have a large group of customers, partners, industry influencers, and deep industry experts come together to celebrate the great work and achievements accomplished by our innovative customers and their associates.  So, it’s easy for me to say that the SAP Retail Forum 2015 marked a highlight for the year – innovative discussions in a real vibrant city and at the iconic Eden Roc Resort.   A great location and venue to explore the digital opportunity we see for retailers to be fast, agile and optimized for consumer outcomes.

With so much to experience at this year’s Retail Forum, it’s difficult to build a highlight reel – for every mention I might make, there are many more that hit the mark with the attendees.  Nevertheless, let me share a few of those moments and offer my perspective – and I’d love to hear yours as well.  First of all, there is something special about doing ‘3 day’ events:  see London in 3 days, how to spend 3 days in Miami, or 3 days in New York, and so on.  Keeping with this winning formula, the 3 days at the Retail Forum worked well all around.

Day 1

The golf enthusiasts came out in force, while we also had a very well-received session on S/4HANA, followed by the Store Tours.  I always really enjoy the Store Tours because this is where we get to see SAP in action helping our customers to achieve their goals.  As usual, the tours did not disappoint!  At BCBG we saw how they deliver consistent and compelling shopping experiences to drive loyalty. The Burberry store demonstrated their impressive clienteling and personalization by integrating digital and physical interactions to deliver flawless experiences and to grow the brand.  Aldo Shoes was a great story of real-world connected store with contextualization and endless shelves opportunities.  At Nespresso, I was impressed with how they were able to turn coffee in a capsule into a personalized experience.

The other experience I want to highlight here is the Women’s Leadership session and the follow-on reception. This session reminded me that retail will always be about people -  and the more we learn about engaging men and women in the workplace and understanding their future needs, the more opportunities we can create and the more barriers we can break down.  For the past 3 years, I’ve been thrilled to see this Women’s Leadership session at Retail Forum continue to grow not just by the number of people joining this conversation, but by the impact we are creating with the next generation of retail leaders.  This is a powerful mechanism to foster a community and take a pause in our busy lives to talk about topics such as diversity, leadership, authenticity and encourage all of us to consider fresh ways to mentor the next generation of talent.  Did you know  that companies with three or more female board members outperformed those with no women directors?  These companies saw an 84 percent higher return on sales, a 60 percent higher return on investment capital and a 46 percent higher return on equity!

We were also honored to have Cindy Taylor keynote the Women’s Leadership session on “how everything I know about management, I learned as a mom.” There was more than one occasion when her advice resonated with me as I bridge being a mom and a leader.  I was thrilled to moderate an exciting panel of key players in industry, customer evangelism, and technology:  Glenda Light of BCBGMaxAzriaGroup, Jackie Huba who recently wrote “Monster loyalty: How Lady Gaga turns followers into fanatics,” and Intel’s Rachel Mushahwar bringing her expertise at the intersection of CPG and IoT.  And I won’t forget the lovely Tommy Bahama ‘Relax’ gift bag with goodies from BCBG, Ulta, Godiva, and SAP.

Day 2

After a thought provoking video on the Human Face of Big Data, the Retail Forum attendees were certainly in the right frame of mind to explore the business possibilities enabled by digitization in the keynotes and panels.  From the feedback I’ve received, I know our audience found the keynote on “Unleashing your data and creating a customer-driven culture” informative.  But what I really valued and enjoyed was the opportunity to share the stage with three leading customers that have embarked on their own digital journey to transform a key component of their business.  We first heard from Raif Barbaros, VP of Technology at Canada’s largest retailer Loblaw’s. it’s impressive how Loblaw’s has become such a household name by providing Canadians with grocery, pharmacy, health and beauty, apparel, general merchandise, banking, and wireless mobile products and services.  With a mission focused on their customers to “Live Life Well,“ you know that the customer experience is very important to Loblaw and Raif shared how they used the SAP hybris platform to deliver an appealing and compelling customer experience.  We also heard from Dawn Gilmore, Senior HR Manager, New Business Development at Kroger about how that company used SAP SuccessFactors to establish new processes and truly transform the way they approach their 400,000 strong workforce. The scale of that work was truly incredible.  Lastly, we heard from Mark Gillen, Director Strategic Procurement at Under Armour.  While most of us know Under Armour as a company driven by innovation and passion in everything they do, Mark shared the opportunities that existed in their Business Network area and how they leveraged Ariba and Concur to turn liabilities in the procurement and travel areas into growth and profitability levers. All in all it was truly invigorating to hear these real-world stories from such prominent and respected industry players.

I would be amiss if I didn’t add that along with the entire audience, I was thrilled to have Jessica Alba and Brian Lee of The Honest Company on stage.  Author and entrepreneur Josh Linkner did a great job of moderating this one hour session!  Here we were taken on a journey from a business idea sprouting from Jessica being a new mom leading her to challenge the status quo on the content that goes into baby products – so that “together we can make it better.”  A truly inspiring story of a very young company motivated by a desire to make it easier and safer for moms and babies everywhere.  Today The Honest Company is valued at $1.7 billion.

Day 3

While Day 2 had breakouts themed by retail domains, forDay 3 the breakouts were based on the specific retail segment: fashion & apparel, general merchandise and hardlines, and food and drugs. Each of the three tracks provided a keynote to not only set the stage for the subsequent track sessions, but to also push the envelope in imagining what is possible.  The loyalty and the digital consumer panel generated concrete ideas on how digital can help create even better customer experiences.  John D’Anna, CIO Brookshire Grocery Company and Lockie Antonopoulos, Principal Architect at Ulta Beauty shared how their respective companies view loyalty. Brian Cedeborg of /N SPRO and Paula Courtney CEO of The Verde Group added their perspectives based on actual customer projects and field research.  Did you know that 80% of customers that experience an issue with a retailer never share their concerns with the retailer and that 16% of revenue across retail is at risk due to poor customer service?  Clearly a lot of opportunity to do better using analytics on big data to improve the processes and overall experience.

At the end of Day 3, I was happy to share the Retail Solution roadmap which is always a popular session and this year was no exception.  There are a lot of exciting solutions already available and more to come in 2015 and 2016.  Building on a digital core of S/4HANA, and the SAP Customer Activity Repository, the retail model and processes continue to be a strong investment for SAP.

The SAP Retail Forum certainly lived up to its billing – a unique experience full of valuable insight on creating loyal customers and driving higher profits. It was also clear that the amount of data being generated will continue to grow beyond our imagination – all the more reason to accelerate your company’s digital transformation with a solid digital core.

I am really pleased that the team has created a one stop shop for all the conference presentations, videos, photos and industry content that you can download.  So, please visit our SAP Retail Forum Resource Center for easy access to what you missed or want to view once more.  See you next year, and yes we’ll have to think about resort casual attire!

I’d be happy to hear from you on Twitter: @LoriMitchellKel