The need to fuse online and offline experiences and fulfill anytime-anywhere convenience has retail executives concerned about the maturity of their customer experience and supply chain capabilities, according to new research from JDA Software, Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz.

The “2019 Retail C-Suite Viewpoint Survey,” in collaboration with Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., and conducted by Incisiv, West New York, N.J., finds that while retailers plan to expand fulfillment options and offer infinite choice, the C-suite still struggles with core digital transformation challenges. Additionally, executives view artificial intelligence (AI) and edge technologies as having the widest impact on their business, enabling real-time visibility into inventory and unlocking value from customer data, all driving elevated customer experience, increased operational efficiency and business agility.

“As consumer expectations increasingly cut across formats, the store shelf has extended from a physical object to the entire supply chain,” says JoAnn Martin, vice president, retail strategy, JDA. “The C-suite recognizes that expanding fulfillment options to improve customer experiences and support the ‘anywhere shelf’ is critical to survival and growth, but our survey shows their digital supply chain capabilities may be severely underprepared for this change.”

According to the survey, 78% of respondents do not have a real-time view of inventory across channels, and half of respondents believe they do not have the right platforms and tools in place to support expanded fulfillment options. In addition, retailers still do not have a single source of truth for their data nor the human capital to derive insights, and nearly half (46%) do not trust their data.

The C-suite demands targeted, high-impact strategies to circumnavigate their top transformation challenges, with 48% working under the pressure of short-term goals and 41% combating organizational resistance to change. To meet customer expectations and evolve to the “intelligent enterprise,” executives plan to invest in agility, intelligence and automation strategies and solutions.

“Even as retailers try to get to consumer parity, the C-suite is impeded with core challenges. Digital transformation maturity and keeping up with the next evolution of retail, the intelligent enterprise will require successfully shedding old habits and eschewing channel-centric thinking for a more holistic view of retail,” says Gaurav Pant, chief insights officer at Incisiv. “The latest technologies such as cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the key enablers of this transformation.”

Despite executives’ belief that the cloud has more than two times the impact on business agility compared to other technology and the fact that it’s a key driver of the intelligent enterprise, along with AI, the survey found that supply chain and store systems lag in cloud adoption. AI has both the highest rate of current experimentation (pilots) and expected future adoption across the C-suite, with respondents stating they plan a five-time increase in the technology over the next two years.

“These survey results further validate the strategic imperative behind AI and cloud as transformative technologies for retailers to gain competitive advantage by truly unlocking value from customer data,” says Greg Jones, director of business strategy for retail at Microsoft. “Retailers must know their shoppers better than they know themselves, and the powerful technologies coming to the forefront for digital transformation are the way to get there.”

Survey methodology

Incisiv conducted a quantitative survey of 221 C-level executives across multiple continents, industry segments and company sizes to understand their digital transformation priorities, challenges and plans.