Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

By Joanna Brewer, Writer/Communications, IBM

Keith Mercier, Associate Partner, IBM Global Business Services, Retail Center of Competency

Growing up in a military family, Keith Mercier‘s fashion choices were limited to what was available at the military base exchange. At age 12, his love of fashion hit him like a bolt of lightning in the form of a bright red, v-neck, cashmere Lacoste sweater.

A few years later, Mercier started his career in fashion, working part time to stock shelves at the Gap. Rising through the ranks, Mercier eventually led the company’s e-commerce business and, in between, served as the president of beloved maternity brand Japanese Weekend. Along the way, Mercier learned some incredibly valuable truths that today help him guide apparel and fashion brands on winning strategies.

Dubbing himself the “fashionisto,” Mercier says, “In the fashion business you have to think like a fashionista – a truly devoted follower of fashion – if you are going to surprise and delight them and keep them coming back.”

At IBM, Mercier is an associate partner for IBM Global Business Services (GBS)’s Retail Center of Competence, and helps retailers transform their business and their industry through products, solutions and best practices. In this role, Mercier travels extensively to meet with retailers around the world, specializing in those that operate across multiple channels – in-store, online, through mobile devices, etc. – and enabling them to provide consumers a seamless experience whenever they interact with the retailer’s brand.

Omni-channel is the only channel

Retailers need to ensure that their brand is consistent whether online or in the store. However, many retailers are still operating their e-commerce departments as totally separate divisions. That’s got to change, Mercier says, particularly as retailers look to capture the massive opportunity presented by mobile shopping.

Mobile commerce among consumers is soaring, growing 43 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to the IBM Retail Online Index. However, mobile shopping isn’t just about offering clients a mobile app, says Mercier. Many consumers aren’t especially interested in using specialized shopping applications from their favorite stores. In fact, a recent IBM survey of 26,000 people found that a mere 3 percent of respondents use retailers’ mobile applications.

“Consumers want to shop on their own terms, on their preferred platforms,” Mercier says. “It’s essential that retailers’ web sites are fully optimized for tablets, smart phones and any other mobile device that a consumer wants to use. The longer it takes to load a site or process a payment, the chances of a sale drop significantly.”

Retail is detail

One of Mercier’s early mentors taught him that “Retail is detail.” When working to deliver on consumers’ extremely high expectations for fantastic products, personalization and convenience, the devil is in the details, says Mercier.

In order to show their customers that they know them, retailers must make use of Big Data to develop marketing tactics that enable them to “narrowcast” to individuals. Mercier holds up examples from the casino industry that are getting this right. Their business models are built on data, using knowledge about a guest’s previous visit to make them a repeat customer.

Retailers must now employ the same tactics. But that’s not as easy as it sounds, Mercier says. There are cultural, financial and organizational barriers to making it happen. Some of these can be broken down by new technology models like cloud computing, which would enable a retailer to more affordably provide access to data across their organization. However, this challenge can’t be solved with technology alone.

“This is no longer a discussion with just the CIO,” Mercier says. “This is now a discussion with the CEO, the CMO, and the entire leadership team. We are at a new crossroads in retail, the corner of technology and service. Our ability to enable retailers to blend these together and create an unparalleled shopping experience is our opportunity.”

The store as dead give-away

At the start of every project with a client, Mercier will spend a full three to five days in their store. “Everything you need or want to know about how well a fashion apparel brand is being run can be seen in an individual store,” he says. “Stores are the microcosm of everything good and bad about a fashion company.”

Mercier compares a store to a book with chapters: a story needs to develop as a customer progresses through the store. Brands that do this successfully keep customers engaged.

As the president of maternity brand Japanese Weekend, Mercier implemented targeted marketing practices tailored to customers’ due dates. Given their target customer would only need maternity wear for a short period, he worked to make Japanese Weekend customers brand evangelists that would recommend the line to their pregnant friends.

Experiences like these enable Mercier to work so effectively with his clients today. “I speak their language,” he says. “I’ve sat in that chair and I know the challenges it brings.”

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November 28, 2013
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