Savio Thattil, CIO & SVP of Technology, Sephora Americas
To my mind, the top retail technology trend is mobile payments, and offering consumers greater optionality in how they pay, particularly with the advent of Apple Pay. We are following mobile payments very closely to see the pace of adoption in the US by retailers and consumers alike and whether it becomes a clear preferred choice among mobile wallet options, including those applications that have already launched and those that have yet to. There is no doubt that many players are trying to take share in this market.
In addition to thinking through how consumers will pay for their merchandise, events in recent years have of course made it even more incumbent on retailers to ensure they are taking all steps possible to protect the security of their customers’ personal information. This is one of the top “conversations” among people in my role -- essentially exploring how we can continually raise the bar with respect to data protection. It is something we take very seriously.
Beyond that, a trend that continues and accelerates is the new “byte-sized” world, where both consumers and those in the workforce are spending more of their time on mobile/small screens. Technologies have - and will continue to be - developed for these screens that are simpler than technologies used for desktop screens and it seems that this is a trend that is here to stay. For us, mobile shopping is a critical part of our business, so we also follow it very closely. We were an early adopter and we want to remain a leader!
Lastly, personalization techniques in store environments are increasingly becoming a mainstream part of the retail experience. As with mobile technologies, we recognized many years ago that personalization could be a key differentiator for us and we have brought it to life through the Color and Skincare IQ technologies in our stores, which make personalized recommendations for our clients, in our Beauty Insider loyalty programs and other many ways. It is an integral part of our business and again, we want to remain ahead of the curve.
Evolving Role of CIOs
Over the years, we have witnessed a massive change pertaining to the role of CIOs depending on the organization, the industry, the business strategies, the prevailing market conditions and the financial climate in terms of business value. How would you describe your own role as CIO has changed in the past couple of years?
The “old world” CIO was essentially in charge of technology operations and keeping them on track. It was much more a functional role than a strategic one. Times have changed, dramatically, across many industries – including and especially retail. An effective CIO essentially has two jobs. One is developing the best technology possible to support all business initiatives and operations. The other and equally important job is remaining current – or indeed ahead of – trends in technologies in order to bring new concepts to the business that will drive it forward in some manner, from improving efficiency to enhancing the customer experience.
At Sephora, I have made it my core mission to ensure that my team is considered a key partner for our leadership in continually improving our business processes both within our organization and in our customer-facing initiatives, protecting the security of both our company’s and our customers’ data and, in general, bringing the Sephora vision to life and reinforcing our position as a digital leader in the retail industry.
I cannot comment, for competitive reasons of course, on what is next for Sephora on the technology front. But I can tell you that developing and utilizing predictive technology to enhance the customer experience is foremost on our minds at all times.