Customer Engagement: Edge of Disruption for Retailers

This Q&A with Peter Sheahan is the first in my series of NRF preview and recap blog posts where Peter and I provide perspectives on topics that are top-of-mind for retailers. 

Please visit my blog page for future posts.

Consumer behavior is changing, enabled by digital technologies that are transforming the way consumers shop, which in turn is creating a need for retailers to stay relevant in this different context. This is causing a disruptive shift in our value chains, where products and information no longer flow linearly and sequentially from supplier to manufacturer to retailer to consumer.

Retailers are adapting by engaging with customers in different ways, while also collaborating with other industry stakeholders. This topic is examined in a report we recently released with The Consumer Goods Forum titled “Rethinking the Value Chain,” and it will be the subject of Capgemini’s keynote at the National Retail Federation’s annual conference called “The Big Show” on January 18 in New York City.

Peter Sheahan, Founder and Group CEO of the Karrikins Group and author of the upcoming book “Matter,” will join me onstage for the keynote. In this Q&A, Peter provides a preview of how retailers can create value for customers by enabling different thinking.

Kees Jacobs: In the book you call the place where companies can create the most value the edge of disruption. What does this mean?

Peter Sheahan: The edge of disruption is the intersection of the old and the new. It is where the existing capabilities, market preferences, brand equity, partner relationships, supply chain and value chain strengths enable you to create the models, markets and possible experiences of the future. It’s one thing to be way out on the bleeding edge looking at models that simply lack connection with the capabilities of today; it’s another to be looking at activities on the fringe of the market and pushing different thinking as to what potentially could be achieved.

It’s about having the courage to push the envelope of existing experience by leveraging the converging forces of disruption– social media, shifts in demographics and customer preferences, information transparency, video, user interfaces, sensorization, data and analytics–  all of which exhibit executable capabilities now.  The key is looking at how they can be combined together in a way that augments or potentially reinvents entirely new experiences.

Jacobs: Is customer engagement the edge of disruption for retailers?

Sheahan: Customer engagement is certainly a category on the edge of disruption. The concept of engaging customers isn’t new. But the mechanisms, the technology, the means by which we can engage them certainly has and will continue to change.  The intersection of software, sensors, and cameras means that the ability to measure customer feedback via a customer’s physical gestures exists today – Capgemini’s Smart Digital Store feedback solution is evidence of that.  Think about what happens when you can build a dataset and actionable intelligence based on customer facial expressions and body language as they browse through say, a rack of dresses or shirts.  

The concepts of customer segments of one is another example of the edge of disruption as it relates to customer engagement. The power of cloud driven CRM capability and our ability to link social media to customer profiles represents cutting edge ways data analytics and insights can be used to engage customers in new and highly personalized ways.  In addition, we can create even greater actionable insight into individual preferences, cumulative preferences, and industry trends. 

Customer engagement is certainly an area in which you can find an edge.  It’s a hot topic because many companies simply are not doing a very good job at it and they know they have to improve to stay relevant.  Given just how many options customers have right now and considering the ability of the internet to break down geographical barriers and distance, being able to engage our customers in an omni-channel environment is going to be more important than ever moving forward.

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