by Peter High, published on Forbes
Ed Robben has worked in retail for most of the last eight years. He confides that when he joined the industry after having been an IT executive at BNSF Railway, and a consultant at the Feld Group and EDS, retail seemed to be a real laggard in terms of staying on top of technology trends and opportunities. He spent nearly five and a half years at J.C. Penney, including time as the CIO there before joining Fossil Group as its CIO in June of 2012. In recent years, he has seen the influence of IT grow substantially, and as omni-channel strategies are carved out, IT has more potential value that it can contribute to the enterprise. I began our interview by asking him about innovation in the retail setting.
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Peter High: How do you think about technology innovation in the retail space and how do you think about the variety of channels through which you sell?
Ed Robben: I would say that retail has been sort of a laggard in that space. I was amazed by the amount of complexity that goes into running a retail operation. In Fossil’s case, that is wholesale, retail, marketing, manufacturing—all the things we do to operate the company and deliver to our customers. With the advent of the Internet and mobile technology, it is a prerequisite for any company to develop capabilities to engage your customer and listen to them.
On the operational side of things, the analytics required to do this in a targeted and personal way is a capability that all retailers need to develop. I think retailers do a pretty good job of doing the old style of marketing, but when it comes to the Omni-channel style, the consumers end up better armed than we do in most cases. So that is a real need for any retailers doing business today.
At Fossil, given the fact that we are two-thirds wholesaler and one-third retailer, we look at this digital space to include our wholesale customer as well. Our products are found in a lot of the major department stores—a consumer may never walk into a Fossil retail location. So it is important for us to have that brand attraction and the digital capabilities to engage them in the right way. We are not where we wanted to be, but we are working hard to put the right strategies and technologies in place to enable that.