Retail

Data Insights, Reducing Friction Keys To Online Retail Strategy

A day in the life of a strategy officer involves a great deal of communication with and listening to the concerns and interests of industry analysts, media and customers (along with a healthy dose of strategizing, of course).

In an increasingly complex consumer landscape, creating a coherent retail strategy requires synthesizing hundreds of data points on industry, consumer and competitor trends. Stefan Weitz, chief product and strategy officer and GM, payments, tax and fraud at omnichannel commerce technology provider Radial, joined the latest installment of PYMNTS’ Commander In Chief Series to share why reducing friction in the realm of consumer payments remains a key point of strategy for every online retailer.

PYMNTS: What does a day in the life of a chief strategy officer look like?

SW: It’s never the same day twice.

This part of my job requires me to see the forest through the trees (unlike the other half of my job, running all product for the company). My role as the chief strategy officer definitely requires me to climb the trees and often tangle with lemurs. That means I spend some time speaking with analysts and customers to get a sense of what has them spooked or excited about their businesses.

Other days, I spend looking at partners that, when combined with our services, could add something to the retail ecosystem that the world doesn’t even know it needs yet.

The third area of focus is being a great evangelist for both Radial and the industry so that retailers can find a path forward when Amazon seems to be sucking the air out of the room. That means sharing my insights during media interviews, analyst briefings and conferences and through writing.

The fourth big bucket of my job is working closely with my peers on the senior leadership team to help draft the ultimate path forward for Radial and the changes we need to make to cement our leadership position in helping retailers and brands thrive in an increasingly complex consumer landscape.

PYMNTS: What is the most difficult part of your job, and why?

SW: Synthesizing the hundreds of data points about the industry, competitors, consumers and our capabilities into a coherent strategy that everyone in the company can understand and get behind.

With an organization as large as Radial, it’s important that people know what AND why we do what we do and to help empower people across the organization to make the decisions that are in line with the overarching strategy. Organizational tepidness is a killer — people have to be bold. To do that, they need to know the framework for a decision they make.

PYMNTS: What do you wish you had more time to do?

SW: Read for pleasure and, honestly, just have time to brainstorm. My friend who runs LinkedIn schedules blocks of nothing on his calendar frequently. I try to do the same, but they rarely hold. Clearly, I’m doing something wrong!

PYMNTS: What is the most important strategic consideration for CSOs in payments and commerce today, and why?

SW: No question, it’s uncovering any way to reduce friction in payment processes — everything from acceptance models and achieving better fraud detection so that merchants don’t turn away good payments to saved payment methods and alternative tenders.

The one place Amazon has such an advantage over other online retailers is the ease with which it’s able to take consumers’ money. If you can’t approach that level of fluidity, you are hurting your business.

PYMNTS: Strategy is only as good as its execution. What do you do in order to ensure that your ideas don’t collect dust on the virtual bookshelves of executive management?

SW: I started my career as an engineer who often mocked strategy for just that reason. Part of what I like to do is get people at all levels involved early and often as it frequently spurs excitement in them, and then they are relentless in moving ideas forward.

Another easy way to ensure execution is to make certain that you understand the problem that you’re trying to fix going in and have measurements that are clearly communicated across the senior leadership team. If, after you complete the strategy project, those numbers don’t move — it gets clear pretty fast that nothing is happening — and that tends to get the CEO excited…

PYMNTS: What is the biggest strategic blunder you’ve observed over the years, and what would you have done if you were in charge?

SW: Wow, that’s a loaded question! Without getting into specific companies that I’ve either worked with (or competed against), I would say the common element in strategic failure is hubris. It either causes people to overestimate how much they can do (like define a new market where they have no audience or experience) or have a dangerous amount of arrogance that their market position is secure.

Andy Grove said it best – only the paranoid survive.

PYMNTS: What is the most strategic decision you’ve made today?

SW: Today I was working with engineering on sizing an opportunity to enter a new B2B market. We were looking at the real market size and our likely penetration, all the usual metrics. But we spent a lot of time discussing if we were confident in our assumptions about what customers would really want in the future because today the market isn’t there — but I have a notion that it will be.

So the question is, do we invest now ahead of the need, or wait until it’s here and potentially take a lower share of the market as we’ll be a fast follower rather than a leader? That’s not a simple decision, especially as you start adding in potential corollary revenue benefits as more prospects would be looking at what we do in totality if we were to offer this product. I hope we made the right call.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. Check out the February 2019 PYMNTS Financial Invisibles Report

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