Points of View

Retail and CPG firms must meaningfully apply integrated automation initiatives to engage customers in the next normal business environment

May 4, 2020 Melissa O'Brien

Mars shares its response to today’s paradigm shock

 

The COVID-19 business environment is a paradigm shock for all industries, and it has become an existential crisis for many companies. If the challenge for most retail and CPG firms over the last few years has been to get closer to consumers, today’s most timely challenge amid a pandemic is to examine its core values and use digital technology to act upon them. “This is going to be a test for companies that are sincere about their purpose and being a responsible business,” said Sandeep Dadlani, Chief Digital Officer at Mars, during an April 23 webinar on shaping the future workplace, hosted by HFS.

 

Connecting with the end customer is an even greater challenge now; using technology like intelligent automation and analytics can help bridge the gap

 

Consumers have had no choice but to drastically change their buying habits over the last several weeks of social distancing, and the impact on retail and CPG market will be deep and long-lasting. Pre-COVID-19, retailers and CPG companies expected to use advanced digital technology like intelligent automation for improving customer service and front-office effectiveness (Exhibit 1). The investments these industries have made in technology will amplify their ability to sense, respond, and pivot to consumer demands both now and in the next normal. And technology like those in our Triple-A Trifecta—process automation, analytics, and AI—can help accelerate the changes retail and CPG firms need to make.

 

Exhibit 1: Retail and CPG firms expect improvement in customer services from their IA initiatives 

 

 

 

Dadlani said Mars is grateful to be in a position to have products that people want, and demand has even increased in some cases. Just as importantly, Mars has also made long-term investments in areas such as cybersecurity, AI, and analytics, to future-proof its business. Mars has seen the most impact through the use of analytics and AI during the pandemic; in fact, most companies we surveyed in our COVID-19 study plan to increase spending in these areas (Exhibit 2). These elements of the trifecta have given visibility into the supply chain and raw materials, as well as unprecedented spikes and dips in demand. For example, think of spikes in online groceries and even in cosmetics (if paradoxically—despite less in-person interaction, we are now putting on our Zoom cameras more often!) Competitive dynamics have also changed; people in crisis go back to trusted brands, and smart analytics helps CPG companies understand customer loyalty. Technologies that were considered “fun” or “nice-to-have” a few months ago, such as augmented reality, are suddenly critical to maintaining customer engagement in an all-virtual shopping environment.

 

Exhibit 2: Spending on process automation, AI, and analytics will increase as a result of COVID-19

 

 

The Bottom Line: Retail and CPG firms must examine how digital technology can help them connect with customers and stay relevant both now and into the post-pandemic future.

 

Each panelist on our webinar agreed that businesses must use technology to help humanize the environment for employee experience and become a driver of customer centricity and revenue. Mars seems to have future-prepped well by designing a brand that end-consumers relate to, such as curating content relevant to its brand (including some that warms the heart of any pet lover). But its use of and investment in digital technology will help CPG firms like Mars adapt and be ready for the next normal shopping experience. The difference now, says Dadlani, is the speed of change. Mars is hurtling toward its omnichannel aspirations faster than ever. “Over the next 18 months, you’ll be able to drive more change in your organization than ever,” predicted Dadlani.