Peter Stock is responsible for the strategic purchasing within the organization of Microsoft Deutschland GmbH as well as within the sub-areas in Austria and Switzerland. He supervises marketing, consulting, HR, and retail with a total expenditure volume of 380 Mio. US dollars.
In his role he supports and consults all business units in selecting a suitable service partner and negotiating contract management, but also in the long-term relationship with suppliers as he views “retail” not as a short-term approach but as a process of trust that transcends the product or service lifecycle.
You have been working in retail for a multinational corporation for quite some time. And you have seen many trends come and go. From the beginning of your career to today: What has changed most positively in the industry, and what bothers you about the current situation?
On the one hand, I look at the progression within our corporation. One can clearly see advances towards centralization and a stronger global approach. Structures, strategies, and the definition of the supply base are subject to the use of synergies. However, it is remarkable that local market conditions are still (and must be) taken into consideration in the field of “retail/consumer products”.
On the commerce side of things, there is an increasingly stronger focus on a few strong players (retail partners, retailers) and a massive competition taking place between in-store versus e-commerce. Fifteen years ago, multi-, cross- and omni-channel were concepts that only the fewest suppliers really thought about and considered in their sales strategies. Today, it’s a must.
Success in retail always depends on looking out for the consumer and his needs. How would you describe your job in the context of achieving that goal? And what are the topics that should be talked about?
When it comes to my strategic approach in retail and even in project management, I have an approach that is quite literal: “If you don’t know where you want to arrive, don’t even start running.” In the context of my collaboration with our retail sales and marketing operations, this simply means that we need to start at the destination, i.e., from the point of view of the end-consumer. What do we want to achieve? How do we manage to communicate the very idea of helping people with our product so they can achieve their full potential? It begins with a clear language in the supporting marketing campaigns, encompasses an available and targeted address at the point of sale and even extends to a flexible and “uninterrupted” logistics support.
The focus is not on us or on our technical product features, but on the benefit for the business based on our supplier relationship and, ultimately, for our consumers and their rapid execution of their daily challenges.
We also act on these maxims in the selection process of our service partners and suppliers who must have the same grasp and understand themselves as a member of the team. And being a team member naturally involves a mutual interest in long-term cooperation with our service partners, designed to grow together. Strategic partnership that then transfers more easily to the trade and consumers! We buy up expertise wherever we don’t have enough of in our own ranks. And we expect that expertise to be present at any minute, on-site, and scalable via service level agreements and measurable success factors.
Let’s talk about brand ambassadors: In the past, retail salespeople were not the best experts, which is why many leading players were relying on brand ambassadors in the stores. Now, with Covid-19 and even afterwards, what is the future of brand ambassadors from your point of view?
I’m going to make this very easy for me, sorry about that – that’s just how purchasing managers are. It’s not crucial to consumers whether they talk to a market manager, product advisor, brand ambassador or any other employee with a cryptic title at the point of sale (or during online consulting). The consumer wants to be listened to, wants to be emphatically asked about their needs, wants to be understood in his language and wants to get a recommendation for something that isn’t just a special offer on the shelf. The consumer has a problem or a necessary investment situation in front of him and is looking for the best possible approach to a solution. And we (the manufacturers, retailers, on-site advisors, etc.) must provide a fair and trusting approach.
Modern technology would allow to really have an omnichannel experience. For example, looking at products in AR at home, video calling a sales consultant, and getting the product delivered within a very short timeframe from a store next door. What are your thoughts on these options?
Well – the future has outrun us even faster than many of us thought one and a half years ago. That is good and, in some cases, works excellent, and companies, partners, suppliers and vendors quickly followed the trend. Digital platforms, devices and vendors have adapted and evolved to be more consumer-friendly.
But we can’t forget and exclude certain segments of society (like in other areas e.g., digital homeschooling or public administration), meaning it can’t be a question of “either/or”. It must always be an “AND”! People who don’t have access to augmented reality or don’t want it, people who don’t trust the dealings of a video call – we still want to reach out to and integrate them in the technical possibilities of the future. It would be fatal in the long run to let the technological gap become wider. Moreover, from the perspective of our responsibility to society, we will also do anything to provide a well-rounded service by implementing diversity and inclusion measures.
Will physical retail turn from best price into best experience? Will stores change to brand experience centers? And how would you foresee such a change / evolution of retail?
„Best price“ or „tight is right”? I’m convinced that this wheel won’t spin much longer. Even in strategic retail management we are not the subjected to the dogma of pure price focus. It’s the overall package consisting of performance, flexibility, mutual understanding, eagerness to succeed, and price. There is a visible parallel to contemporary food retailers. Even the big discounters focus on quality, proof of origin and sustainability. The consumer is ready to consume more consciously – expenses are changing. IT, gaming, and telecommunication hardware is also primarily distributed by focusing on innovation and emotion (analogous to the automobile industry). Its the experience during the decision-making, purchase and utility phase. Pure price discussions have no place in this, and cognitive dissonance will only partially allow for a price argument.
Having shelves next to shelves is hardly any different from the online shopping experience. Retail will (have to) leave more room for the experience and provide scenarios that satisfy the needs and expectations of the consumers – even in the store and in the virtual environment. Experiencing things on-site will remain an important component. The haptic of the device, the “user-friendly” handling, taking something into your own hands, an appreciation for me as a consumer coming from the on-site advisor, the expertise about supplemental components – that will make the difference.
Do you think, video salespeople would be a solution during or even after Covid 19, or virtual chatbots, where consumers speak to for example a robot/animated character?
Yes – they can and they will most definitely be once they are able to specifically and individually grasp the needs of the consumers. The consumer won’t always articulate his questions and problems in a technically correct manner. Clumsy and stereotypical text and phrases will be unacceptable. Based on my own experience as a consumer, some things will still need to be touched up on. But as I said before – these technical and communicative processes can only be supplements. Solely focusing on these channels would be a fatal fallacy that would leave out certain groups of customers.
Service and installs are more and more important. For example, when buying a complex smart home setup, consumers do not just need an install service to mount a TV to the wall, but also a complete setup service until the products are connected, programmed, and 100% functional, why does nobody offer these kinds of services? What is your take on this? Should retail stores offer that or the manufacturers? Would consumers pay extra for that or should that be part of an excellent service?
Good question. We should develop consumer-friendly offers. Home delivery and installation is an offer from manufacturers and retailers in the area of white goods. So why not for IT and communications products and services? Have you ever tried to install your WiFi at home – let alone calling the hotline of an internet provider due to modem, media center or router problems? Personally, I would be more than happy to pay for that at any day of the week. Including the factors of time, availability and reliability, this could certainly be a USP that would set manufacturers and retailers apart from online vendors.
Bonus question: Which project / topic in your job were you particularly proud of?
For me, it’s “TEAMS” as the symbol of professional video and teleconferencing and the key word for all innovations that now reached the public.
Without this medium the global cooperation of companies, the maintenance of international commerce, but also the warranty of many social services (public sector, homeschooling, healthcare, etc.) would not have been possible. Even court hearings have been processed via TEAMS in the last two years. That would have been unimaginable in the pre-COVID era.
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