How to work smarter in retail with Isabell Aakervik

Our Chief Expansion Officer on what retailers should be doing to stay successful long into the future.

  • Topic
    Store operations

For well over two decades, retail has been an integral part of Isabell Aakervik’s life.

As our Chief Expansion Officer, Isabell is responsible for scaling our presence and impact across new markets and regions, as well as fostering global strategic partnerships and alliances. She’s also a proud member of the MACH Alliance Growth Council, where she collaborates with other industry experts and influencers to promote and advocate for modern, agile, cloud-native, and headless technologies and architectures.

Fittingly, her retail story started in the mid-90s when she got first part-time job working in a retail store. From there she worked her way up the ranks before finding a niche where she could blend both her love of retail and IT. Isabell has been on the frontline of retail through the biggest changes the industry has ever seen - from the arrival of the internet and the ecomm boom through to resurgence in brick and mortar stores we’re seeing today.

We caught up with her to get her hot take on where the industry is right now, the biggest challenges facing retailers, and what retailers should be doing right now to ensure they stay successful into the future.

Let’s get right to it, what are the biggest challenges facing retailers right now?

There are always challenges in retail. It’s one of the fastest moving industries in the world and, the combination of changing customer behavior and ever advancing technology, means retailers have to always be smart to stay ahead of the game and the competition.

Right now, one of the biggest challenges retailers have is to become more profitable. 

I believe the biggest reason behind this is poor CX that stems from store associates that aren’t empowered. In order to deliver an immersive experience, you need the right labor, the right tools, and the right mindset. We need to put the store in the palm of their hands and give them more - or at least the same - information than the customer has themselves. If you can empower store associates with real-time information, a 360 view of the customer, connected sales channels that enable stores to be used as fulfillment centers, and a smiling face then your customers will get an extraordinary experience, they’ll become loyal customers, and they’ll recommend you to others.

As it says in the 2023 Gartner® Retail Technologies Hype Cycle™ report - customer experience and business agility have become the principal competitive differentiators in modern retailing - and this is what retailers have to be focussing their energies on.

What are the reasons behind many retailers not fully embracing change?

Too often retailers will get sucked into the trap of thinking they have to change their backend systems - like the ERP - first and they’re scared of this because it’s a huge job. It doesn’t have to be like this. 

Start with the front-facing systems and get something in the store that can really help store associates support customers. And it’s important to remember you don’t have to swap everything all at once - start with the pieces that are going to have the biggest impact and deliver the most value. 

For example, you don’t have to change your ERP, POS, CRM, and payment provider all at the same time. The stores are where the low hanging fruit is and where changes can have the biggest impact. Focus on this first, and then turn your energy towards something like an ERP and back end systems.

People worry that a best-of-breed approach will be more expensive and time consuming because there’s many different vendors to deal with rather than one. Is this the case?

You don’t have to swap all your systems to best-of-breed at the same time. Start with whatever you think will give you the most value. And if you commit to going down the modern composable, MACH architecture approach, then start with putting a piece in place that can connect to systems you already have, then as you go along on your journey you can swap other systems out as and when you need to.

The MACH approach works so well because you know the vendor is one of the best in their field. And it puts the power in your hands to create the type of architecture that works and delivers for your business, your employees, and your customers.

This way makes it way more efficient. For example, this year we helped a customer roll out Sitoo across 200 stores and integrate it with their ERP system in four months after the contract was signed. And since the roll out they’ve already seen a dramatic decrease in the number of calls to their IT support team from stores as well as almost doubling their customer capture at checkout. Now the POS roll out is complete, they are looking at bringing in a best-of-breed CRM as their next step.

This approach is backed up by data. The latest research into MACH Technology shows that 70% of organizations have generated measurable business value from MACH, 48% have seen an ROI from their MACH investment, and close to two thirds have saved over $1 million because of this approach.

What other advice would you give to retailers who are serious about long term success?

When customers come into a store today they already have a lot of knowledge. This means that store associates need to be even more knowledgeable and tools that connect all the sales channels in real time are the best way of giving store associates this knowledge. 

Stores and store associates are the key to great retail and the best shopping experiences.

Store associates need to love helping people, love supporting people, and love interacting with people - and they need to do it with kindness - because this is what sets them apart. A friendly and supportive attitude from a store associate has a huge impact on the customer. It’s why empowering store associates with the tools and information they need to do this leads to loyal customers, trust, better relationships, and the all important word of mouth recommendations when the customer shares what a great experience they’ve had.

We know staff retention is another huge challenge facing retailers so my advice is to do things that make your store associates want to stay. If they feel empowered, if they have state-of-the-art technology, and if they are able to do their job without frustrations of say the cash register not working, then they are much more likely to stay. Ask yourself how you can make them happy and make their lives easier? And this is where I go back to my point about low hanging fruit because a new backend system isn’t going to affect store associates and their day-to-day lives at all. 

So know how to empower and embrace your store associates because they are the most valuable asset you have. And they can do a lot more to help you acquire new customers than expensive digital advertising can.

Finally, I would say be brave. Dare to do things differently. Try things out, move quickly, and see what works for you. System changes can actually happen really quickly if you work with the right partners, they don’t have to be long, drawn out affairs. 

What excites you most about the future?

From a Sitoo perspective, everything is happening super fast right now. We’re constantly innovating - at speed - to better the product and because we come at it from a retail perspective, everything we do is built to benefit the retailer, their store associates, and their customers. 

Looking at the industry as a whole, the technology space is really exciting because the potential is so huge especially with AI and how soon there won’t be any boundaries at all between physical and digital retail. I also love how stores are becoming way more than just stores - they’re everything from showrooms to fulfillment centers - and when they’re powered by best-of-breed tech they become the heart and soul of successful retail.

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