Learnings to increase low-code's impact at retailers

In the fast-paced world of retail, where margins are tight and competition is fierce, businesses are increasingly turning to digital solutions to stay ahead of their competition. Unsurprisingly, many large retailers have adopted low-code technologies to speed up their digital transformation, offering the ability to accelerate software development. This enables the IT departments of retailers to meet the growing demand for innovation from their businesses.

Having worked with low-code teams at physical retailers over the last 5 years, Maaike Stoops, has seen numerous use cases where low-code has made a significant impact. From automating the forecasting of inventory in shops to supporting store employees in refilling shelves and consumer-facing applications like click & collect applications, retailers sit on many opportunities to automate processes and enhance customer experience.

Despite low-code already having a substantial footprint among retail organizations in Europe, Maaike states that there are challenges to overcome when implementing low-code at retailers: “The speedy, agile, and collaborative approach to software development can be challenging to implement in a predominantly linear and offline context.” 

Optimizing Supply Chain vs. Transforming the Business

Retail is a highly margin-driven business. Traditional, physical retailers have optimized their supply chain to the largest extent, efficiently organizing product availability and quality within the shortest timeframe and at the lowest costs. Having done so for years has led to linear and optimized processes.

“Software development processes are typically not linear”, says Maaike. “We all moved away from waterfall to Agile to ensure that the right feedback loops are in place to continuously receive feedback, improve, and adapt.” Setting up an Agile practice might therefore not be as straightforward as in other industries. Common challenges that Maaike comes across are:

  • Retail workers are not constantly available to test and give feedback, resulting in a challenge to continuously deliver value and get feedback on delivered work.
  • Work is performed in silos with clear responsibility per department, where agile projects require input and time from those different departments.
  • The concept of a continuous value stream, with budget and value per value, doesn’t match the company’s allocation of money with a fixed breakeven point.

“With these contradictions in mind, it makes sense that Agile best-practices don’t always work right away. The whole organization has been focused on running the business in its most efficient way, and now people come in that want to change all the work that has been done.”

Digitization vs. Digital Transformation

There is no harm in developing software with the goal to optimize an organization, rather than to innovate. The potential challenge, however, is that this could result in many missed opportunities. Maaike: “I’ve been in multiple projects where we ended up digitizing a specific process or step in a process. Although still valuable, the question is whether the process shouldn’t be changed more drastically now that we can benefit from new technologies at hand.”

But organizations are sometimes hesitant to change a process that is already working. And when organizations make drastic changes, do they have the right process in place to ensure it succeeds? Maaike shares that she has learned that product owners and key users might not work as well in retail organizations as she would want from an Agile perspective. As Maaike explains: “To what extent do we expect someone who is in a warehouse or store for most of their week to spend time testing new features?”

“I have clashed with end users before. After they had spent time on telling me everything about their current process, our team ended up building a new, digital process.” Maaike explains it is part of the innovation process: “I am not the first to experience that you should aim to build not just what people ask for but what people need. 

Henry Ford already realized that asking people what they want would have resulted in faster horses, instead of cars. However, there is a reason why the first cars looked like carriages. Many people just don’t like to change something that is already working, and if that change is too big, you will lose your most important stakeholder: the user of your application.”

How to Build Winning Solutions in a Retail Context

There are many challenges when innovating within the retail sphere. Retailers also experience a high need to drive, so the opportunity for change is there.

  • Don’t force best practices – Some things just really don’t work in all contexts. Although that doesn’t mean I don’t keep nudging for change when I see the opportunity.
  • Be respectful of time – Resources are highly optimized within retail organizations. If continuous involvement of users is unattainable, I make sure to pick the moments where they are of most value.
  • Work together – Every organization is different, and it is not up to me to tell them how it should be done. Only by combining my knowledge and experience in low-code development with the context of an organization will we create a winning strategy.

Let’s Empower Retail Innovation

“Too often, we talk about what we are going to do, but not how we are going to do it. It is a fairy tale to expect that Agile methodologies can be implemented 1-on-1.” As part of their way of working, LINKIT, always talks about how to approach our projects and measure the effectiveness of that approach throughout the collaboration. 

There is a lot to gain by using low-code in the competitive context of retail organizations. By discussing not only the what, but also the how, these projects are a log more likely to succeed. There are ample examples of successful low-code solutions at retailers. Ahold’s commitment to improve the experience of their store employees, which resulted in the award-winning WINK application that thousands of employees to speed up their work by 50%.

Maaike: “A transformation close to my heart is the one at European retailer Lidl. Not only have they embedded Mendix in most of their country’s digital teams, but there has also been a real shift in the types of applications they make. Where they started with the development from supporting back-office applications to the transformation of mission critical processes in their 440+ supermarkets. Resulting in unignorable business cases for the organization.”


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