Jill Standish of Accenture: The Future Of Retail In The Post Pandemic World

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

Jilea Hemmings
Nov 2, 2020 · 12 min read

The online experience. So much of ecommerce today is about lists. You do a search and you get what’s essentially a static catalogue of products. That’s fine some of the time. But it cuts out so much of what shopping is about. Now everyone’s shopping online, finding ways to mimic the experience of being instore is going to be really important, especially in high-end retail. It might be VR or AR, other kinds of interactive experience, or richer and better imagery. There’s so much potential and this is definitely a space to watch.

part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Standish, Senior Managing Director and Lead of Accenture’s Global Retail Practice.

Jill Standish leads Accenture’s global Retail practice, managing the client portfolio and developing offerings and capabilities that allow retailers to move forward with agility.

With over 20 years’ experience in retail sales, marketing and consulting leadership, Jill has led digital and physical transformations for global retail brands and built retail practices for leading technology and services companies. Today, Jill’s key focus is rebuilding retail for what comes next. This includes strengthening sustainability practices, which are vital to create a better future for retailers and the communities that they serve. She is also a strong advocate for inclusion and diversity, which she believes is a business imperative — and the cornerstone of innovation.

Jill’s personal commitment and focus are on bringing value — to clients but also to the people she works with, the retail industry and their customers.

In addition to leading digital and physical store transformation projects for global retail clients, Jill has headed up the retail businesses of two technology giants. Before joining Accenture, Jill was senior vice president and general manager of Oracle’s Retail Business Unit. She was also the vice president and global leader for IBM’s Global Business Services retail consulting practice, and vice president of IBM’s Retail Store Solutions.

Jill serves on the boards and is active in a number of industry bodies, including the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). She has won a number of retail and consulting industry accolades. These include being named one of the ‘Top 20 Women Leaders in Business’ by Women’s Wear Daily, a ‘Women to Watch in Retail’ by Retail Leader Magazine, and a Top 25 Consultant by Consulting Magazine. She is a regular industry and keynote speaker and has been quoted in national and industry publications such as The New York Times, Bloomberg and Women’s Wear Daily.

Jill holds a Bachelors in Business Administration (BBA), Marketing from the University of Massachusetts, graduating Summa Cum Laude.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

made a decision really early on in my career to get into retail. In fact, I was interviewing on campus while in college and I had two job offers. One was for a company that sold fiberglass and the other was from NCR [National Cash Register]. And the fiberglass company said to me, you’re going to have to move to Ohio, and you’re going to need a pickup truck, and you’ll be spending a lot of time up a ladder. I said, OK, I don’t really want to own a pickup and I don’t particularly like heights. So, it was an easy pick in the end. NCR was my route into retail, and I’ve never looked back!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

One of the threads that I’ve seen running throughout my whole career is just how critical technology is in retail. I remember at NCR when we were rolling out the new cash registers for a grocery client — I won’t say how long ago this was! These new registers were replacing the old machines where the cashiers used to punch in the prices by hand. This was during the advent of barcode scanning when product prices were sourced by a computer in the backroom rather than on the product itself. This was all well and good if the system was up and running. If it went down, it was a disaster.

This happened in my client’s pilot store — registers went ‘off-line’. I was there to support the store and all eyes were on me to fix it. Lines were long, tempers where high and I was in the backroom of this grocery store on the phone with some technical support team reading incomprehensible two-digit hexadecimal error codes over the phone trying to get the darn store back up and running.

Well it was all very stressful, but the experience taught me something really valuable: your technology is mission critical. Never let your system go down. And really that’s been my philosophy ever since. You can see this in Accenture’s philosophy too. In fact, we’ve just launched a new brand campaign and company purpose that is grounded in helping companies use technology and human ingenuity to deliver more value. It’s all part of the same message: technology is the past, present and future of retail. But it needs to be underpinned by responsibility and purpose.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

My big passion right now is to make retail more resilient and adaptable while finding ways to be kinder to the planet. To Accenture, adaptive retail is the new DNA of the brick-and-mortar enterprise — the marriage of human ingenuity and technology to fly through the fog with crystal-clear direction. Recently, we’ve been working with a major clothing retailer on a big move to the cloud. And what’s really interesting about this is that it’s not only about getting better and more resilient technology to run their business. By measuring the right things, we can also now prove how the cloud is helping the planet. We can show exactly how much it can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and create a smaller carbon footprint. To me, that’s fantastic. Now is the moment to adopt the environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices that will allow companies to thrive again.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

First, never think you’re stuck. There have been times in my career when I felt like I was getting stuck, and my approach has always been to move on, to look for the next opportunity, to find something better. It can be tough to do that, especially for women who are trying to balance a career with family life. But it’s so important to be resilient, to never get sour, and realize that if you do get sour — you may be souring others around you who may look up to you. When this happens, it’s a time to move on and to try something else.

My second tip is look after yourself. Embrace taking some time out, whatever that means for you personally. I do a lot of yoga and meditation and I also walk about three miles a day with my dog. Being outside and doing mindful things like yoga is what keeps me centered, and that flows out to everything else.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

When I first joined Accenture, retail was still really coming to terms with the threat from ecommerce. And back then it was easy to fall into the trap of thinking this was a disaster for our industry and that all these existing retailers were facing an apocalypse. And I felt a bit of that too. A wise leader at Accenture took me aside and said, Jill, what people need is hope. That was such a great piece of advice. From that moment, I made it my mission to show our clients there’s a way through this. And out of it we started developing this idea of retail with purpose, which was much more hopeful and soulful and showed retailers a way forward. It is a mantra we continue to live by.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m a board member of RILA [the Retail Industry Leaders Association] and right now we’re doing some really important work on inclusion and diversity. We’ve got 57 companies all talking about how to make retail kinder, gentler and more inclusive, not just for employees but also for consumers. It’s about finding ways to make the retail experience more inclusive, so shoppers aren’t profiled or treated differently. It’s also about supplier diversity — getting these huge companies to look again at who they’re doing business within their supply chains. There’s a huge opportunity to give minority businesses, LGBTQ businesses, African American owned business more of a chance. That, for me, is so important because consumers want it, shareholders want it, we all want it.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

First, curbside pickup. So many retail organizations did it through necessity, some better than others! But even those that did it in a bit of scrappy way were responding to a very real consumer need. It showed retail could adapt quickly to a completely different set of circumstances. This is going to be the reality for the near future, so retailers will keep getting better at it.

Second, queuing. As we get into Winter, it’s much tougher for customers to wait in line outside the store to comply with occupancy rules. We’re seeing retailers do things like let consumers book shopping slots at set times or have beeper systems that mean you can go and wait somewhere more comfortable until it’s your turn. There’s lots of good ideas here.

Third, the online experience. So much of ecommerce today is about lists. You do a search and you get what’s essentially a static catalogue of products. That’s fine some of the time. But it cuts out so much of what shopping is about. Now everyone’s shopping online, finding ways to mimic the experience of being instore is going to be really important, especially in high-end retail. It might be VR or AR, other kinds of interactive experience, or richer and better imagery. There’s so much potential and this is definitely a space to watch.

Fourth, the big shift online isn’t just about front-end customer experiences. We’re seeing it happen everywhere, including trade shows and other events. Over the summer, for example, we worked with Microsoft to help Milan Fashion Week go digital. It was a really innovative way to sustain the sales ecosystem and maintain core industry relationships while the pandemic was stopping everyone coming together in person.

Finally, going local. The pandemic has really made us all reassess the value of our local communities. People really want to support local stores, and we’re seeing the best retailers respond by taking a responsible and ethical approach and tailoring their store inventory so it’s more closely aligned to what the community needs.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

Yes, retail stores will still exist, but they’ll be different. I like to compare it to what happened to libraries. When borrowing books became less important, libraries adapted. Some became a place for kids to study, some became community centers for the elderly, some started issuing passports and driving licenses and so on. They morphed and took on a new purpose depending on what their community needed. I think something similar will happen to retail stores. They’ll become places where you don’t just shop, but you can access a whole bunch of different services depending on what your local community wants and needs.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

Just like the last question, this is about understanding the needs of the local community around each store and making sure you fill that gap. Lululemon is a great example because they have Yogis go out and be brand ambassadors and do things like turn their stores into yoga studios. It’s a really decentralized approach which gives them a direct insight into their immediate local communities.

Of course, to do this well, you need to know what your community actually wants. And that’s why data and analytics is such a critical part of retail. If you don’t have the ability to look at your customers and say, who are the shoppers that are most profitable to us, where are they living, what do they want to buy from us, how do they want their purchases delivered, you’re in trouble. Delivery is a great example. If your local customers are all elderly, you’re going to need a different approach than if they’re all former city dwellers used to doorstep deliveries. Without the right data, you just can’t get that kind of insight.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

I think retailers have to remember it’s about more than just price. Everything is so transparent today. How companies behave and what they stand for is a much more important part of retail than it once was. People are starting to vote with their dollars, and the pandemic has made this even more visible. People are at home in front of screens all day with direct access to all this information all the time. So, for retailers, it’s about avoiding a race to the bottom on price. It’s about being authentic, emphasizing your ethics and values, paying attention to what each community you serve really cares about, and then making sure your message gets across.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Good question! There are lots of things I’m passionate about, like sustainable retail and women helping woman in business, but those movements are already happening. I think what I’d really like to see is more authenticity in the workplace. I get frustrated when I see leaders that feel they have to put on a mask in their professional lives. It doesn’t reflect the reality of the lives we all know we’re living. There is something wonderful about leaders who are not afraid to authentically be themselves. That kind of confidence is contagious. So, my movement would be to be our real selves at work. If you’re not happy, it’s ok to be sad. If you are, let’s see it. Let’s not pretend we don’t have home lives that can be far from perfect. I remember when I used to work from home, if my kids came in, I used to feel I had to put the phone on mute. I don’t think people should have to do that anymore. And I think the pandemic is already making it happen. We’re seeing kids walk in on video calls, dogs barking. It’s great, and I hope it sticks.

How can our readers further follow your work?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

bout the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to flourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.

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Jilea Hemmings

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Founder Nourish + Bloom Market | Stretchy Hair Care I Author I Speaker I Eshe Consulting I Advocate For Diversity In Beauty

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.