Australian retail legend Solomon Lew told the World Retail Congress last week that senior management in his companies understands that “in retail, a degree in MBWA (Management by Walking Around) is much more valuable than an MBA”. Mr Lew, chairman of Premier Investments and former chairman of Coles Myer, was in Dubai to be formally inducted into the World Retail Congress Hall of Fame.

Lew said that retailers must never lose sight of the concept of “being close to the business and understanding how things really work, as distinct from how they should work.” He said that retail is not just a science but also an art, which includes “truly understanding your customer, product and the ability to execute with a mix of both intuition and experience.”

At JDI we echo this belief that above all else, the customer should be at the core of the decision making process. However, often in the frenetic retail environment, it’s a challenge for retailers to ensure that senior stakeholders remain engaged with customers and are able to put a face to the demographic. All too often it’s a one page board report devoid of sensitivities that forms an important part of their decision making process.

JDI have developed methodologies and expertise that we often use, assisting our clients achieve their own “Management by Walking Around” degrees. These tailor-made Customer Immersion programs, whether they be accompanying customers’ in-store or visiting their homes discovering how they use / store products have been successfully implemented. Coming face-to-face with customers in-situ is an incredibly powerful tool that can force executives to challenge assumptions based on their personal world views.

Given how compelling Immersion sessions are, senior execs can get very excited to implement immediate changes based on their experiences! But Immersions are isolated snapshots of customers and should be supplementary to other planned traditional research methodologies. As such, it is crucial that Immersion sessions are responsibly managed and implemented with care so that attendees can contextualise the process, comparing and contrasting their experiences and other new insights.

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