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Code Halos Strategies, Retailing and Digital Disruption

The struggles of traditional retailers

Retailing has always been hard, but it is getting even harder. Brick and mortar stores are struggling to get people into their buildings to see and buy their products. Even when customers enter the store and look at the products, they often reach for their smartphone to check prices and opinions from other locations on the Internet. Retailers are being digitally disrupted in all kinds of ways. In many cases this disruption is via mobile devices, but that is not all of the story.

Amazon is often listed as the top digital disruptor in retailing as they are gobbling up market share in all kinds of categories. Today, they announced their own smartphone. Why? The smartphone is a data generation engine. It can provide massive amounts of data about you, your location, browsing, shopping and research interests.

My colleague, Peter Abatan has been pondering the struggles of traditional retailers and shares his insights with us here.

Recently, Tesco announced a third consecutive quarterly drop in profits and suffered its worst slump in 40 years, similarly, Sainsbury's announced its second consecutive quarterly drop. Having lived in the UK for a considerable part of my life, and being a holder of loyalty cards from both grocery chains, I wonder if these supermarkets really understand who I am, and what I like to purchase? I also ponder why it is so difficult for these behemoths to connect with me on a social level?

If ever a business or organization should be at the forefront of personal Code Halos strategies, it should be Tesco and Sainsbury's. Code Halos strategies are the information that surrounds people, organizations, and devices. Every click, swipe and view, every interaction and transaction generates a halo of code that's robust, powerful, and rich with meaning and insight. The data they hold on an individual is enough to make some basic assumptions about that person, giving them the opportunity to upsell or down-sell products and services depending on their spending patterns. For example, what a person buys can help determine whether the person lives in a one-person household or a multiple occupant household. It can indicate whether a person has realized a rise in income or an economic set back by the type and quality of products purchased. Purchases can hint at birthdays, weddings, babies, religious practices and holidays, and ethnic food preferences.

These economic trends associated with the individual can enable these grocery chains to help the customer stay loyal, by targeting special offers and deals specific to that customer's needs. For example, these grocery chains can offer a product regularly purchased by the customer, as an occasional treat to help retain loyalty. As the price cut chains like Lidl and Aldi continue to eat away at the market share of the big five in the UK, the survival of the fittest will depend on these grocery chains maximize the use of personal Code Halos to their advantage in order to engender loyalty from their customers.

I shop at any of the big 4 grocery chains because I feel none of them do really understand who I am as a customer. I have come to the conclusion that it is the ability to create a relationship with the customer that is essential to engendering loyalty. If Tesco can say to me, "Mr Abatan, we noticed that you bought the ingredients for a coconut cake, did you know that apart from making a coconut cake you could also make coconut flavored bread and here is the recipe to make it." Now that is a relationship that could last for a very long time. Another example is, "Mr Abatan we noticed that you have not bought petrol from us for a while. If you do so before the end of the week we will give you £4.00 off your next purchase."

Code Halos are about using technology to enhance relationships with the customer and to help the organization to grow in the midst of very stiff competition. There are supermarkets like ASDA that do not use loyalty cards, and use demographics to determine what products will sell in a particular area, and which ones would not. Cut price supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl probably use the same model, but I believe this is not sustainable. They all have to start to understand the individual customer and their needs, likes and dislikes.

By understanding my Code Halo, supermarkets can specifically target products that meet my needs. For example superfoods that can help me lose weight or run faster. It can begin to understand when I am likely to run out of a product and generate a shopping list that ensures that I do not forget something essential next time I visit the supermarket. These grocery chains need to connect with their customers via social media if they are to understand what their likes and dislikes are because it all goes towards understanding the personal Code Halo of every single customer.

Loyalty cards like Nectar for Sainbury's, Clubcard for Tesco and the latest edition myWaitrose by Waitrose are a great start, but these businesses need to recognize and fully understand every customer's personal needs and find a way to connect with those needs one customer at a time. As Malcolm Frank et al state in their book titled "Code Halos", "We can find meaning-making potential almost everywhere; the information surrounding every individual, product or organization is fantastically rich with clues and cues about past behavior, current needs and future possibilities". The authors go on to say ""Decoding" your customers' Code Halos - understanding in fine-grain detail who they are and what they value - is becoming the new way to win in business."

There is no doubt that Code Halos are now transforming all our lives and the lives of organizations as well. It will help us to achieve our goals faster, more efficiently and in a non-intrusive way. In essence, grocery chains need to think differently beyond price cuts and price wars, and begin to build solid meaningful relationships with each customer one-at-a-time.

Code Halos: How the Digital Lives of People, Things, and Organizations are Changing the Rules of Business by Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig and Ben Pring.
(Published by Wiley 2014)


Kevin Benedict

Writer, Speaker, Editor

Senior Analyst, Digital Transformation, EBA, Center for the Future of Work Cognizant

View my profile on LinkedIn

Learn about mobile strategies at

Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict

Browse the Mobile Solution Directory

Join the Linkedin Group Strategic Enterprise Mobility

Join the Google+ Community Mobile Enterprise Strategies

Recommended Strategy Book Code Halos

Recommended iPad App Code Halos for iPads

***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

More Stories By Kevin Benedict

Kevin Benedict is the Senior Analyst for Digital Transformation at Cognizant, a writer, speaker and SAP Mentor Alumnus. Follow him on Twitter @krbenedict. He is a popular speaker around the world on the topic of digital transformation and enterprise mobility. He maintains a busy schedule researching, writing and speaking at events in North America, Asia and Europe. He has over 25 years of experience working in the enterprise IT solutions industry.

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