(As originally published on LinkedIn, 21 March 2017)

Digital disruption presents new opportunities for women in retail

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By: Ted Salter, EY’s Canadian Consumer Products & Retail Leader

We have all witnessed the ability of digital technologies to fundamentally challenge social norms. The term ‘digital democracy’ refers to the power or influence delivered to the consumer, which enables them collectively to shape the actions of even the largest consumer goods companies. The consumer no longer wants to be pitched, but instead now prefers a conversation with their favourite brands. The era of the ‘Mad Men’ aggressive, more directive sell is giving way to a dialogue between the retailer and the customer. Digital technologies allow for storytelling with subtle messaging, versus the bolder techniques of the past. Is it coincidental that we’re also entering an era where more women are taking up executive leadership roles in the marketing functions within consumer products and retail organizations?

In an industry where it’s often cited that women account for approximately 80% of all household purchases, you would think who better to leverage the capabilities delivered through these technologies? Countless studies have concluded that women have a demonstrated ability to better display empathy versus men who tend to take a more systematic approach to things. Women’s abilities may be better suited to apply the nuances available in sophisticated social community tools of today. Consumer shopping surveys have consistently indicated that female shoppers tend to look to several of their preferred sources across social media prior to making decisions. Brand Watch cited a study which pulled data from industry heavy weights Pew, Nielsen and Burst Media, which concluded “women are wired for social media”.

What does it mean?

The key to social media is telling a story. Bestselling author and COO of MarketingProf, Ann Handley, has been cited by Forbes as one of the most influential people in social media. She gained that prominence through her demonstrated brilliance in her ability to create content that really connects with the targeted audience.

In order to better adapt to these new channels of engagement, fundamental changes will need to happen within the marketing organizations of retailers as well. A blending of analytics, technology and creativity will require these leaders to be highly collaborative in their approach. Women are often given the role of change champion within retail organization today and therefore that responsibility within the marketing function will be a familiar one.

This momentum in the marketing function for women is another demonstration that women in leadership roles within consumer goods companies and retailers often achieve that success by being themselves, versus attempting to conform to a model defined by others, from another era.

As retailers struggle to adjust to the new digital reality and two-way communication with their customers, women in leadership roles means a better chance of survival. It means more diverse ideas, approaches, and ability to genuinely connect with customers through modern means. At EY, we always say that our teams – and our clients’ teams – must be diverse, to be the best. With a team that reflects your customer, you’re on your way to long-term success.