Retail in a networked era: Interview with Kodak’s Darren Johnson

Darren Johnson

The rise of social media and mobile technologies have lead to wide spread changes in social behaviour. But what about the impact on businesses and processes?

We've entered an age of radical transparency, says Darren Johnson, Chief Growth Officer at Kodak's Personalised Imaging Business, and that's leading to important shifts in the ways that companies interact with their customers. It's much more than simply how you process customers and more about how you interact with them. That means a complete culture shift is required for most organizations.

In this PEX Network interview, a transcript of a video interview done earlier this year, Johnson discusses the implications of rapid technology change and the rise of what he calls omni-channel retailing.

To watch the original video interview, please go here: Innovation in a multi-channel world: Interview with Kodak’s Chief Growth Officer, Personalised Imaging

Please note: this transcript has been edited for readability.

PEX Network: To start off I find your job title - Chief Growth Officer - really interesting. What does your role entail?

Darren Johnson: It is a relatively new position that was put in place in November of last year. We are in a very fast changing market. Kodak has been at the forefront of the impacts of moving from traditional to digital and my job is really to set the strategy for Kodak personalized imaging in business, to make sure that we have the foundations and processes in place that we can innovate in an agile way, that we can move quickly and that we can make the most of the opportunities that are in front of us.

PEX Network: In other words, it’s putting in place everything you need grow?

Darren Johnson: Absolutely yes.

PEX Network: One of the things that you are discussing here at PEX Week is the move to what is called Omni Channel Retailing and it is process implications. What exactly is "Omni Channel Retailing"?

Darren Johnson: Retailing has changed hugely over the past few years and it continues to evolve. The rate of change is so quick that it has taken a lot of brands and retailers by surprise. Retail used to be bricks and then online and the dot com bubble came along just before the turn of the millennium. Since then it has gradually grown into more and more portals that you can shop on.

Now, it has really taken a step change with the advent of the smart phone. There are more mobile phone connections now than there are people alive. The UK in particular has got personal penetration of smart phones of 74% and upwards.

People are beginning to shop more and more on their smart phones and their tablets, which are an ideal shopping device along with smart TVs. It is moving to a collection of your personal portals in which you can connect to people of course but you can also shop. For retailers that have been embedded in that bricks and mortar environment it is a big challenge to make sure that they are present and serve the customer in all of the new ways they are starting to shop. It is also a great leveler because you can get very small retailers that haven’t really had much of a presence all of a sudden they can get these virtual storefronts online.

Aggregators are coming to the fore that can aggregate some of that demand so it really is something that is changing the face of retail.

PEX Network: It sounds like it is also enabling new business models as well.

Darren Johnson: It is for sure. I liken it to we are moving into a new network age and that has got a lot of implications around radical transparency. It is very difficult not only to maintain price differentials that are unwarranted but it also goes beyond transparency of pricing: it is a more cultural transparency and connectivity that just pervades everything and that does give rise to different business models.

The rise of collaborative consumption would be another business model that is generated because you have this birth of a social collective now. Roughly a fifth of the world’s populations are going to be on social networks soon. That is an awfully big social network.

PEX Network: It seems this shift has been going on for some time now. Is there a growing consensus out there as to what this actually means for businesses?

Darren Johnson: It is both a challenge and an opportunity. For those retailers that don’t have their virtual storefronts seamlessly integrated across all of the different platforms, that aren’t present on Android, on iPhone, on Windows 8 it does represent a threat. But it also represents a huge opportunity to change the balance of power between how you deal with your customers. It enables you to serve your customers in a much more seamless and integrated way if you can do omni channel shopping correctly.

PEX Network: What impact has the growth of omni channel retailing had on you at Kodak?

Darren Johnson: For Kodak it continues to be a very exciting place to develop. We have taken the rather bold step of launching our own interfaces, launching our own apps that allow people to print seamlessly from a Kodak app into a Kodak printing infrastructure at retail but also opening our API, so opening our architecture to allow any app developer to develop an app wherever he might be for whatever the application is that can now seamlessly integrate into the Kodak’s printing network at retail. That changes the game again because it moves from having a series of touch points at retail, of which we are very strong because we have over 1,000 touch points at retail, to all of the sudden potentially millions of touch points where people can access Kodak architecture and can get Kodak printing products.

That is a huge change which started last year. We have a developer portal now, we have developers actively working with us to develop new apps that will interface to us so it is an exciting time.

PEX Network: My final question is a very big picture question. What do you think will be critical to getting things right in this era of omni channel retail?

Darren Johnson: Above all when you look at the effect a newly networked system has with all of the transparency, with everything that entails it involves a cultural shift. It is more than just process change it is a cultural shift of how you work with your customers. Everything needs to be pulled these days. Customers need to pull your products, they need to pull your advertising and that involves quite a shift in the way previously marketing and organizations have looked at how they connect with their customers and how they engage with it.

We have moved from a model where everyone used to do CRM and send email blasts out. That model is really dead now although I still get some retailers contacting me more frequently than I speak to my parents which is slightly annoying!

That age of the way we used to do things is changing. It is a little bit cultural how you work with a company and how you engage with your customers in a real way.