Brick-and mortar-retail is rapidly transforming with the digital age. As physical storefronts turn digital, it’s safe to say that traditional retail is quickly becoming a mesh of “brick-and-click.”
So, how are retail giants surviving in this new landscape? Interestingly enough, the remaining brick-and-mortar retail are reinventing themselves by applying helpful DevOps principles.
In this post, we’ll peek into cases of innovation and horror stories from historically brick-and-mortar retail chains and brands. From Target, to Balian Group, Sears and other companies, we’ll discover the importance of DevOps in this new brick-and-click multi-channel retail environment.
In an effort to increase agility, Target engineering teams embrace something they call “the Dojo”—immersive, six-week training sessions with hands-on DevOps and Agile coaches. As Target CIO Mike McNamara recently told the Enterpriser’s project: “The Dojo has been fantastic in getting teams engaged with agile and DevOps, removing the natural resistance and fear of change, and then supporting the team through the changes while maintaining productivity. It’s been a huge success for Target.”
The result of these sessions is increased comfort with methods including containerization and tools that enable continuous integration and continuous deployment. McNamara also noted their grassroots approach; they encourage open source activity and listen to their engineers when they petition the use of new tech.
“Our engineers have fully embraced DevOps,” he said.
For another case study, take Bailian Group, a large Shanghai retailer that operates 6,000 grocery and department stores. By the time Bailian entered the online marketplace, it suffered from a severe lack of agility, non-native web apps and underutilized server assets.
“Our transition from traditional brick and mortar to omnichannel business presented a great opportunity but an equally large challenge,” noted Lu Qichuan, director of IaaS and Cloud Integration Architecture at the Bailian Group.
Qichuan and Bailian realized that to stay relevant, they had to cut long development cycles and embrace “new cloud application development tools and processes that foster a CI/CD and DevOps culture and increase innovation and time-to-market,” he said.
They ended up implementing a private cloud using OpenStack. Now, midway through their cloud transition, they estimate to have 10 million virtual machines by the end of 2020.
While the previous two examples had positive outcomes, digital transformation has not gone over well for other retailers. Sears declared bankruptcy in October 2018.
In its final years, Sears was in a sticky situation. To the chagrin of former CEO Eddie Lambert, surveys found their customers preferred to shop in stores as opposed to online. Disregarding customer desires, however, Sears attempted a big data play with its “Shop Your Way” program, under which Sears gathered user data to then sell. The program floundered, resulting in consumer irritation and loss of sales as reported by Business Insider.
Writing for InformationWeek, Emily Johnson reminded us that evaluating DevOps using the wrong metrics will ultimately lead to failure, citing customer satisfaction as the No. 1 goal.
In its final years, an abrasive Sears leadership halted any sense of DevOps to flourish. A disengaged Sears CEO Lambert created “a climate of fear,” according to Busines Insider reports. It appears the retailers that stay afloat encourage agility and intrapreneurship—this means encouraging innovation, not fear.
DevOps Aids the New Omnichannel Retail Benchmark
Brick-and-mortar are evolving into omnichannel retailers that bridge physical and virtual spaces. Take IKEA’s augmented reality app, which visualizes items in a house. From Disney, to Startbucks, Nordstroms and elsewhere, physical storefronts embrace digital offshoots of their core model to augment the traditional retail experience.
Surprisingly, physical storefronts aren’t completely dead. They still offer conveniences for urban environments with high walking scores. See the emergence of Amazon physical locations for ironic evidence of their benefit. Other storefronts and pop-up shops have taken on a museum-like quality. The flagship Funko store, for example, creates impressive displays and interactive exhibits, pulling in flocks of weekend shoppers that want more than a dull e-commerce shopping cart.
DevOpsGroup similarly describes a “reverse showrooming” movement; consumers research products online to then purchase in person. This enables brands such as ASOS, which is emphasizing social media and free worldwide deliveries, to stay competitive.
“Retailers have been forced to re-evaluate their business strategies and understand how new technologies will affect their offering,” according to the DevOpsGroup website.
DevOps Turns Bricks to Clicks
Online shopping has sufficiently disrupted retail, and brick-and-mortar must reinvent themselves to stay relevant. An open-minded leadership and a commitment to fast development, dynamic scaling, uncompromised availability and open source technology underpin a successful evolution.
Of course, this increased reliance on technology necessitates a hardened look at how development and operations communicate, and brick-and-mortar retailers must adopt the behaviors of tech companies to retain agility.
This may come in many forms: new user-facing digital experiences, microservices for composability in niche omnichannel environments, containerization to package code that scales well, distributed data stores, heightened user data security or smart incident management techniques, to name a few.
Traditional retailers, then, should dissuade their doubts against agile. DevOps can aid retail by reducing redundancy, cutting costs and streamlining production and distribution.