Attending the recent Etail Europe conference in London, some of the Heads of Digital for major retailers presented on how they developed their digital busines and innovated across the board from customer experience and acquisition, through the digital touchpoints to engage with the consumer. I found the whole thing enlightening.

Having listened to Andy Gibbs of Graze and hearing the success of this business model in a relatively short space of time, brings on reflection on a number of levels. Graze started out knowing that there was a gap in the market for accessible healthy snacks which they were going to fill. With a clear focus they set up a vertical manufacturing system and were quick to test the market with new products, build brand recognition and were nimble enough to adapt when needed.

In contrast to this Neal Johnson of House of Fraser spoke of the challenges he faced in bringing an established business up to date in terms of technology, customer experience linked with employee engagement. With a business that had lacked investment, many technologies and systems were incongruent with where they needed to be. Brave steps were needed supported by a solid business case to gain board support for investment and change.

Emma Mead, Digital Director of Holland and Barrett summed it up “You have to be brave and sometimes you need to make mistakes… be clear about your goal and move forward”.

Leadership and culture are key in all businesses whether young or old as it is the people working within organisations that ultimately lead to success or failure. Having the right team in place is fundamental, whether working with an established team or starting from scratch. Either way clear vision and leadership are required and tough decisions must be taken on when to change the status quo as necessary.

People are the fundamental building blocks of business and working with both large and small organisations from nimble to the traditional “we have always done it this way” it highlights how important it is to develop the right mix. The reality is that to bring in change, bringing in new people is sometimes the only option.