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The Right Mix for Winning the E-Commerce Battle

By Rafeh Masood, SVP Chief Digital Officer, BJ’s Wholesale Club

Rafeh Masood, SVP Chief Digital Officer, BJ’s Wholesale Club

The Changing E-Commerce Environment

The change depends on and varies according to a given retailer. But staying close to the customer is key to keep up with the ever-changing digital landscape. If a retailer maintains good customer relationship by understanding the needs and caters to those needs, they would always have an edge. One worrying trend is the perception that focusing on technology is of the utmost importance. While it is true to a considerable extent, emphasizing solely on technology is not the way to win, emphasizing on customers is.

Yet, Embracing Technology is Inevitable

Though a lot of technological innovations are cropping up, taking a fast test and fast failure approach is key to ensure focus. A test and learn approach with clear defined success criteria will help improve the business model and avoid embarking on “shiny object” journey that might not yield tangible results.

What is BJ’s Formula for Getting the Right Mix of Technology?

We see digitalization as a way to improve convenience for our members. We are a member-centric business, and it is imperative for us to show the value and showcase fresh assortment and offer experiences that make shopping more convenient with BJ’s. Keeping this in mind we have launched our mobile application. The Add to Card functionality of the app offers our members the convenience to digitally load coupons to their membership card in a user-friendly experience. This experience has been a hit with our members driving adoption of the app and generating a buzz around the experience.

"Emphasizing solely on technology is not the way to win, emphasizing on customers is"

I joined the company in May of 2017, and started working on our digital properties, enhancing the mobile and desktop experience of our customers. We quickly laid out the opportunity, defined a vision for digital and mobilized a roadmap to deliver convenience to our members. We restructured the way we were thinking about developing our platform, we focused on developing business capabilities and using technology as an enabler.. In a way, we inverted the pyramid, prioritizing business capabilities. The next thing we did was to look at the products, analyze them, and understand how customers were perceiving them. We stopped thinking about the start and the end of the business process and started to think of how to nurture our e-commerce experiences and evolve them continuously. By combining technology teams with business teams, we formed what we call ‘pods and squads’ which are small independent teams that work to deliver tested software in production.

Each product team (pod) prioritizes backlog through a collaborative grooming process with stakeholders and engineers. The goal of prioritization is to clearly understand the next “#1 priority” for the respective product team. We also focused on automating processes by implementing CI/CD and automation suites to improve speed to market and to support a distributed development model. Our operating model keeps the product manager in the center of the product management process where a product manager combines the art of the possible with the science of technology.

By empowering teams and embracing product thinking, we have revamped our desktop and mobile sites, launched our mobile applications and two branded sites within 6 months. This would not have been possible if we would not have fundamentally changed the way we operate. Making business capabilities a priority, we have moved away from project thinking to product thinking.

How are you Structured Internally?

Our product teams are segmented to handle specific operations; respective teams for managing shopping experiences of users and analyzing the way a customer discovers a product on the site. We find it immensely helpful to have a backlog team as well that prioritizes on monitoring and determining the next move of the customer. Such segmented operations along with the right data and analytics have allowed us to evolve as a robust e-commerce site. Leveraging the insights mined from the data to attract customers and sustain them by showing them the right products are the keys to a successful e-commerce business, and that is what we do. We use internal social collaboration tools so that everyone can see what they are working on to ensure that everyone works on different issues and strings remain unsevered.

Words to Peers

For the technological architecture, one must follow the rule of 5s: simple, speed, scalable, secure, and sustainable. We are open to partnering with firms that embody these attributes and are on a journey similar to ours. One should be prepared to accept every challenge as a part of their learning curve. Having the curiosity and appetite for knowledge, and hard-earned experience are the key to success. Plan the work and work the plan.

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