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6 things retail CIOs need to keep in mind in 2017

6 things retail CIOs need to keep in mind in 2017

Holiday sales grew substantially in 2016, and tech investments and plans are already in place for the 2017 shopping season. In the meantime, there are six important areas that CIOs need to keep top of mind.

According to Forrester, U.S. online holiday sales will total more than $100 billion in 2016, a growth of 13 percent since last year. This will result in a major milestone: Shoppers will spend an equal amount online vs. in stores, predicts the 2016 Deloitte holiday shopping survey. As retailers seek to compete in this fast-moving, ever-evolving digital space, as well as use technology to take brick-and-mortar to the next level on the shelves, throughout the supply chain and at the point of sale, CIOs have a great deal on their plate.

[ Related: 5 digital retail trends that will be big in 2017 ]

Technology investments and plans are already in place for this holiday season, of course — and CIOs will now get to see how last year’s efforts perform, says Walgreens CIO Abhi Dhar. “All of our work gets tested in a time-pressed period,” he says. “It provides active learning and feedback that we can build upon.” But soon enough, CIOs will take those learnings and turn to making their 2017 plans. These are six important areas they should keep in mind after the holidays wind down:

1. Think mobile ... first.

CIOs who help their retail organization to think “mobile first” will win in the coming year, says Fiona Swerdlow, vice president at Forrester and author of the 2017 Retail Predicts Report. That’s because mobile use is growing by leaps and bounds — as an example, consumers spent an average of 126 minutes on their mobile phone every day in 2015, double the time spent just two years earlier.

Successful retailers will design their offerings around how customers use their devices and the retailer’s app or mobile site. “For starters, retailers need to have a consistent cart across devices, which is not easy because the consumer is not always logged in,” says Swerdlow. In addition, consumers increasingly expect that when they look at something on their smartphone while in the store, they will be find relevant information, ratings and reviews.

[ Related: 12 easy ways to lose your ecommerce customers ]

2. The checkout experience is key

When it comes to brick-and-mortar, CIOs need to help retailers drill down on improving the checkout experience, including POS promotions and in-store fulfillment, says Walgreens CIO Abhi Dhar. “This is what makes brick-and-mortar stand out — it all comes down to creating lasting experiences for our customers,” he says, noting the investments Walgreens has made in its new ship-to-store offering; making checkout with EMV chips faster and easier; as well as easy ways to associate coupons at the point of sale. “In 2017, you’ll continue to see Walgreens increasingly focus on technologies that help retailers communicate, connect and engage with customers in exciting new ways.”

[ Related: 8 keys to ecommerce success ]

3. Be on the lookout for digital talent

As online sales boom, mobile digital talent will be in short supply, cautions Forrester’s Swerdlow. Many retailers will need to tap their partner network for digital resources, combining them with in-house capabilities. Also, digital executives will have to be groomed for broader roles, not just the ecommerce team — digital needs, after all, now pervade the entire organization. “CIOs know this challenge well in finding experienced digital developers and engineers for their own teams, particularly in mobile.” she says. “But they have to help the organization step up or risk losing that talent to other retailers eager to nab them, or startups seeking to pick them off.”

[ Related: Recruiting elusive unicorn digital talent ]

4. Get serious about IoT security

IoT adoption continues to progress, but in 2017, CIOs will have to future-proof their security posture as the potential for unwanted users or cybercriminals to infiltrate retail increases, says Sam Elliott, director of security product management at Bomgar, a remote software vendor. “One of the greatest challenges for retail CIOs when it comes to IoT is determining who is responsible for securing, maintaining and patching the various technologies.”

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