Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, president of techUK and non-executive director & advisor
1. What is the greatest opportunity for consumer-facing/retail businesses?
Once upon a time the retail industry was all about selling, now its biggest opportunity is providing unparalleled, interactive experiences to customers. The rise of subscription services and the pervasiveness of connected devices such as wearables means that consumers demand so much more than competitive prices.
Retailers need to seize the moment and recognise that bespoke services will capture the imagination of a new generation of customers. It’s not about selling a product, it’s about getting customers signed up for repeated purchases using platforms that are both convenient and enjoyable to use. It is clear that whoever owns customer experience owns the customer.
And that is why I chose to work on the boards that I spend my time with. The winners in this race will be those that can drive innovation and think creatively to offer experiences that customers will seek to repeat regularly.
2. What is the biggest challenge to such businesses?
Retailers are becoming increasingly integrated into our daily lives. They now have more data about our private purchasing habits, online activity and access to personal details than ever before. Therefore trust, transparency and security are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the industry.
With threats such as data leakage and hacking becoming weekly, sometimes daily, news headlines, the industry needs to beef up its approach to encryption and the protection of customer information. As consumers we all have to take responsibility for what data we put there and what safeguards we put around it. Data is the new oil…Whilst personal data helps retailers build relationships with customers, data breaches will destroy them, instantly.
3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?
I’ve been in the technology industry for many years now, in a variety of roles, working with exciting people from all walks of life. In my early career I spent a lot of time persuading clients to implement software and technology quoting value without really understanding its impact. To be the best advocate for any technology it is important to get up close and personal with the impact and outcomes it creates. I would have done more of that earlier if I had realised the power of being hands on.
However, serving as President of techUK has opened my eyes to the roots of the tech industry, beyond the boardroom and beyond the theory. I think when you’ve climbed the corporate ladder it’s easy to talk about industry change without having to actually implement it. In this role I regularly meet some of the most incredible people on the planet. It’s a hands-on role, you’re out and about championing all sorts of organisations and every day is a new experience.
I get to meet the tech geniuses, the entrepreneurs, the innovators, risk takers and of course the future industry leaders. It’s a tremendously fulfilling job, I feel that I’m actually helping shape the industry and standing up for the people that need support the most. My advice, get your fingerprints on the businesses you are serving and think outcomes!
4. With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control growing digital landscapes of businesses?
We’re in the era of instant, online interaction through social media and mobile devices. In this context, it’s easy to see why misinformation and fake news can spread quickly, without being verified.
This new climate is very much a minefield for retailers, one false story could do unprecedented brand damage within less than 24 hours. The solutions are complex and could often involve a mix of legal and rapid response communications to correct false information.
Retailers need to recognise that digital wildfire presents many challenges, but also opportunities to spread good news. On a personal level I always go beyond the headlines. We living through a culture where the internet can be used to engage or to enrage and only reading the headlines can be misleading and dangerous. I would urge us all to double click a link and read it through before being swayed only by the headline!
5. What will the high street look like in a decade?
Contrary to many predictions, the high street will not become extinct. We are social and we all need to be socially connected! I believe it will however look and feel very different to what we see now.
The rise of artificial intelligence and virtual reality technology will mean many physical shops serve as a gateway to experience products and brands. These experiences will need to be truly remarkable to encourage customers to make the journey, so expect to see some truly interactive and potentially bold initiatives in this area in the coming years.
According to Gartner by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human and at the close of 2018, customer digital assistants will recognize customers by face and voice across channels.
6. Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future?
Mobile devices are already rapidly becoming the purchasing channel of choice for many consumers. It’s the quickest and most convenient way for people to buy products and services on the move and away from home.
It’s a critical sales channel for retailers who wish to maintain the competitive edge. I firmly believe it will soon become the main channel for purchasing. And we could see mobile devices becoming less personal and more omnipresent: car, internet of things..the idea of carrying a personal mobile device around may actually prove to be rather old-fashioned 🙂 Have you see Black Mirror on Netflix?
7. What retail businesses do you admire?
Amazon is an incredible organisation, one which has repeatedly invested the big bucks in innovative services. It’s the perfect mix of technology, creative thinking and commercial awareness. I’d argue its biggest achievement to date has been continually selling services that customers had no idea they wanted, but now love. That’s market leadership.
Another one is a Deliveroo. It’s an innovative product of the sharing economy, easy to use and gives local restaurants a much needed boost in trade.
I believe that AO.com has unbeatable customer experience and an unquenched thirst for evolution. It is also clear that a commitment to a purpose like saving the planet through recycling is critical to retaining and acquiring new customers and, of course, great talent. Most of our customers will only ever use AO once they have tried it.
8. If you hadn’t gone down your particular career path what would you have liked to do?
Actually my ambition was to be a newscaster on the BBC! I had this notion that declaring peace (or war) on the six o’clock news would be the ultimate in anyone’s career. Sadly they did not come knocking. However I did recently have the honour, and pressure, of having the wonderful Sarah Montigue from Radio 4 on a panel that I was chairing so that was a real ‘moment’ to treasure for me.
9. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?
Growing up in a compromised household and then finding myself in a male-dominated technology industry, I have had to work hard at visibility and confidence on my journey. Like many people, especially women, I suffer all sorts of challenges from ‘low self-worth’ to ‘imposter syndrome’, so asking me to rate myself is like poking me in the heart with a hot dagger. I would always mark myself down because I have a ‘terrorist’ sat on my shoulder telling me that I am not worthy!
Most days I can turn the volume down on that voice and on those days I would strive to give something back to someone I connect with who I see suffers from the same confidence issue. I am doing ok but giving back makes me feel I am doing better.
10. Who would you place in the Top 25 Movers & Shakers in Retail?
I am in awe of Jack Ma at Alibaba for so many reasons, perhaps because he totally understands the power of diversity around the table. And also perhaps because he believes in the power of purpose…
This is one in an ongoing series of Q&A’s with individuals that are featured in the annual ‘Retail Insider Movers & Shakers in Retail Top 100’ report.