How Metro sweetens their customer’s experience


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2017)

The number of online sales has risen rapidly in recent years. Enterprises have to position themselves anew with regard to digitalisation, not only to meet their customer’s demands but also to stay competitive internationally. Next to the implementation of new technologies into existing IT structures, the interlinking of e-commerce and customer experience plays an important part. Metro is a company which successfully masters this balancing act.

Mr Salzsieder, do you shop in traditional shops or do you mostly shop online?

You have to differentiate. I don’t get involved much with the food shopping for lack of time. I am lucky enough to have a family who takes care of that when they shop at Metro or Real. Apart from that, I am a typical online shopper, I order everything online. It is convenient and, depending on the provider, it’s also quick. Delivery speed and user experience are important to me, but of course, if I can find the time, I like to go shopping in our Metro markets. You can really experience the freshest products, such as fish, meat or fruit and vegetables in combination with competent advice and inspirations. For me, it is exciting to be inside our shops because many of our IT solutions are used there. It brings me closer to our product’s users.

Alongside hotels, restaurants and retailers, your clients also include companies, public authorities and freelancers. What is special about them and how has their shopping behaviour changed in recent years?

As end users, these groups of clients, like others, have become accustomed to a certain standard in the world of e-commerce. All the more they expect speed of delivery in a professional context – and at the same time they want the standard Metro quality of product. In this respect, it doesn’t matter in the end whether we are dealing with restaurants or freelancers.

What does the strategy for digitalisation at Metro Cash & Carry look like and what are the next big steps in this development?

We are massively expanding our multi-channel business in order to serve our costumer where they want to be served. We are aiming to create a simple and consistent costumer experience involving smooth and quick processes. When I talk to outsiders about the digitalisation in Metro, they tend to quickly focus on e–commerce. But one must not forget that internationally, our shops are still heavily frequented and that they still generate a good deal of our turnover.  All our processes are based on our IT solutions. The international business models of Metro are very different because we serve different customer needs in every country. These are reflected in centrally-developed solutions, which can be implemented flexibly. Our national subsidiaries need to preserve the freedom they need to be successful in their market. For example, the customer-relationship management in China differs fundamentally from that in Germany. In China, WeChat is very prevalent, so we have to include and integrate WeChat into our campaigns. Our central IT supports the national organisations in their market’s specific needs, although a WeChat campaign is not relevant to other markets. We are aiming at giving our national organisations the flexibility to develop solutions locally, perfectly adjusted to the needs of their customers by offering open interfaces to corporate systems. This requires communication between national platforms and globally unified systems in which we can draw on many years of experience.

Another aim is to support digitalisation of the HoReCa-sector, as in hotels, restaurants and caterers. Our digitalisation unit is working on numerous digitalisation solutions for our customers in the field of gastronomy and retail.

How do you make sure that new processes are seamlessly integrated into the existing IT architecture?

We deploy architecture principles, which fulfil our centrally developed solutions. At the same time, our products provide interfaces which allow local solutions to be interlinked with central ones. It is possible that one country requires a certain product which is not used in any other country, as customer needs vary internationally. 

 A fundamental base architecture has to be provided in order to make communication between our complex systems possible. For that, we apply the most modern approaches such as Micro Services, NOSQL-data banks, machine learning and Big Data technologies. This future-proofs Metro and is very attractive for employees of today and of the future.

In which area does Metro use Big Data, artificial intelligence or machine learning?

The use of data has always played an important role at Metro. For decades, we have operated one of the biggest data warehouses in retail worldwide, and of course we are active in the area of Big Data. Not only do we use data to optimise our customer relations, but we also apply it to the internal control of processes. For example, our Data Science Team is improving our merchandise display in our Metro Cash & Carry shops worldwide by applying algorithms and machine learning.

How do you manage to efficiently connect remits such as IT, e-commerce and customer experience?

We work within a matrix organisation and intensively communicate between teams and within the organisation as a whole. With regard to method, we work according to the same agile principles as Google, Facebook and others, for example. This is best practice for us and we are already well positioned in this area. User experience as a theme is so highly relevant to us that I have created a special user experience area within the matrix organisation: A unit is deployed across the development teams and ensures that a consistent experience is provided for the customer across the different products and channels.

How do you synchronise interdepending business performances, such as logistics, procurement and human resource management, within metro?

Here, too, the exchange amongst stakeholders and exchange and communication amongst employees are central elements of the new culture at Metro. The demerging process has sped up the cultural change, which was already in progress. We are aiming to further support the exchange and communication amongst employees. We are actively working on this. For example, we invite our employees on our campus to open days or product shows, where colleagues from legal departments, accounting or HR have the chance to look at our products and ways of working, to ask questions and experience the basis of our business processes, which the IT solutions developed by us provide.

Metro unites various big brands under its roof, such as Metro Cash & Carry or Real. Do you deal with the digitalisation strictly separately or are there synergy effects?

Of course, there are synergy effects, solutions which have been developed and which work well are used and implemented where relevant.

What is your future vision for Metro?

To date, Metro is a retailer who is primarily active in stationary trading with a strongly growing turnover in the delivery business, both driven by digital solutions. This trend will continue. However, we will always remain a multichannel retailer who serves its customers optimally across all points of contact. In this we aim at supporting our clients in their business successes. For that we provide an expanded service function, which goes beyond our traditional retailer function.  In this context, we will deploy a lot of technology, data and our comprehensive knowhow of the industry.

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Timo Salzsieder has been CSO and CIO at Metro AG since March 2017. He looks back on 20 years of experience in various management roles in IT and e-commerce. He held positions as an Oracle consultant and a member of the Board of Bertelsmann Arvato services, as well as divisional director of D+S Europe AG. In 2010, he changed to CIO/CT0 of Tomorrow Focus AG, and in 2015 he was appointed to the executive board of the group, which now operates as the HolidayCheck Group AG.

Picture credit © Jul Elteste / EyeEm/ Getty Images

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