Digital Strategy is Business Strategy At Canadian Tire: Part 1

This post is about a brilliant keynote presentation I saw last March at the Dx3 Conference. The keynote was given by Duncan Fulton, Executive Officer and Senior Vice-President of Canadian Tire, where he talked about the necessity for having a Digital Strategy in a Retail Business.


Fulton’s presentation brought up many themes that all retailers are struggling with right now. Themes like 1) Retail Innovation, 2) Technology Disruption and 3) How to remain relevant to customers. That’s why I thought it would make a great post. Fulton’s main message was that retail businesses must create and use Digital Strategies to connect with customers in order to remain competitive.

You can find links to the keynote (video and slides) below, but let’s get started by reviewing the content of the presentation. By the way, in my next post I will add some opinions of my own on what I liked most about Fulton’s presentation, as well as, a few things I think he missed but may want to consider in the future.

I found it very interesting that Canadian Tire’s CFO, Dean McCann, was invited to introduce Fulton. The business relationship between Finance (save/invest) and Marketing (spend) is on a tightrope and must be balanced properly for any business to be successful. Luckily for Canadian Tire, it seems that McCann and Fulton are on the same page when it comes to the strategic importance of investing in the right digital systems.

McCann summed up Fulton’s presentation best when he equated Canadian Tire’s digital strategy as being the same thing as Canadian Tire’s business strategy. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve seen many technical projects fail because business objectives were not addressed in the plan. Any digital project in retail that does not achieve business goals is doomed to be a catastrophic waste of time and money.

Fulton eventually took the stage, but Fulton referred back to CFO McCann when he said that his CFO doesn’t want him to make requests for money in a piecemeal fashion, project by project. The CFO, McCann, wants to be told how it all fits together. He wants to see a strategy that will give a predictable return on investment. Wow, what a concept! Right from the beginning, I knew this was going to be a great presentation.

Fulton sees the scope of tody’s retail problem as being the following …
1) Speed of Innovation & Speed of Obsolescence
2) Rapidly Evolving Expectations
3) Availability and “Curse” of Consumer Data (Big Data)
4) Availability and “Curse” of Content
5) Fragmentation of Expertise
6) Escalating capital costs & expenses related to “Staying Current”
7) Generation Gap for the C-Suite

Fair enough. I think anyone involved in retail technology would agree these are the relevant challenges right now.

As for the solution, these are the things that Fulton suggests a retail business must consider …
1) Invest in Open Platforms
2) Centralize and consolidate data ecosystem
3) Centralize and consolidate content ecosystem
4) Build digital expertise in-house
5) Fuel a culture that embraces digital
6) Do-It-Yourself to drive for cost-effectiveness

Fulton felt that to future-proof your business you must have a focus on and invest in 1) Data, 2) Content, 3) Technology & Applications & 4) Underlying infrastructure.

He added that 1) Top-Down vision & commitment, 2) Talent & 3) a Test & Learn Culture are also necessary.

I thought it was great that he admitted, “We are all still learning”. This shows organizational self-awareness and the willingness to explore and adapt. These are important traits to have in today’s business environment.

He also comment that in the future Retail will become about the experience that you can create in a store, not just the assortment of available products. I recently read a book called “The Retail Value Proposition” by Kyle Murray. You can understand more about how to do this by reading Murray’s book. Hmmm, maybe I will do a future post about that book.


Fulton then came to the part of the presentation where I admit he lost me a couple of times. I agree with his main point, however. Digital change is disrupting the entire retail business. You cannot isolate the disruption to a single part of the business. He also said that digital disruption will take years to work itself through the Canadian Tire business.

Let’s not forget that mixing business innovation with technology innovation makes for a great deal of complexity. Let me give you the description of how Fulton thinks digital disruption is impacting the entire business, but come back for my next post which might help you understand and communicate the business complexity in a simpler way.

Fulton sees digital disruption touching the following parts of a retail business … Merchandising, Finance, Supply Chain, Real Estate, HR, Communications, Marketing, Operations, Legal, IT & Franchisee Ops

Digital Disruption

In the end, he finished up with a couple statements that I’d like to highlight …

First …
“Digital disruption is swamping everyone, and no one is immune”

Second …
“The bottom line for us is our digital strategy is a retail strategy. It’s a business strategy underpinned by a culture and a team that are prepared to invest and believe in digital.”

Both these quotes are extremely important for anyone in the retail business today. Of course, simply having a Digital Strategy is not enough. You need action too. However, if you don’t have a strategy or plan, then you should better be prepared to waste a lot of time, money and energy trying to keep pace with your competitors’ digital investments.

Here are the links to the video and slides, as promised …
Dx3 Keynote Video – Duncan Fulton
Dx3 Keynote Slides- Duncan Fulton

Don’t forget to stay tuned for the next post where I highlight the ideas that I liked in Fulton’s presentation, plus a few things that he may wish to consider for the future.

Shopping On A Rainy Day In New York City

I was asked to be a chaperon on my son’s band trip to New York City a couple weeks ago. The trip was a lot of fun, but there was one rainy morning that I wanted to share with my ModShopper friends. We were supposed to tour Central Park, but that didn’t seem like much fun because of the rain. So, we went shopping at FAO Schwarz and the Apple Store on 5th Ave. to pass the time. Both these stores were an absolute delight to visit.


Rainy Day in NYC
Rainy Day in NYC


FAO Schwarz

What a fun place to shop! Every display I saw was inviting to the eye. The service was uniformly friendly and warm. Staff demonstrated toys in the aisles so shoppers could see what they were buying. Kids were allowed to play with the toys. FAO Schwarz truly lived up to it’s reputation as being a fun place to shop.

FAO Schwarz Pinterest

FAO Schwarz Stuffed Animals
FAO Schwarz Stuffed Animals
Fao Schwarz Piano
FAO Sweetz
FAO Sweetz



The Apple Store had a completely different feel to it, but the presentation was equally awesome to what I experienced at FAO Schwarz. From the street, you only see a large transparent glass cube with an Apple logo in the middle. When you enter, you walk down a circular staircase into a lower lair. I felt like I was walking into Luke Skywalker’s first home in Star Wars. The display tables were well laid out and staff was only a step away if you had a question. Well designed. Well executed in real life.

NYC Apple Store Pinterest

Apple Store NYC
Apple Store NYC
Apple Store Entrance
Apple Store Entrance
Apple Tablet Display
Apple Tablet Display


Both these companies have done a great job in presenting their wares to shoppers. They both deliver the highest quality shopping experience possible to their customers. This is the standard that shoppers want and that retailers should deliver!

Update: Behind the Store: Truck Safety

I’d like to give you an update on the last post I wrote about regarding Truck Safety .

I wrote my first post after being passed by a speeding Walmart truck last summer while driving on a highway with my son. My concern at the time was that a new truck anti-speeding law had recently been overturned in the courts. My post was not intended to get into the details about how to make a good law. My main point was that shoppers should care not just about the lowest price on a shelf, but also for how the lowest price product reaches the shelf safely for ourselves and our children.  I believe it’s importnat to have the strong consumer protection and road safety laws, but ultimately consumers have the power to judge corporate actions regarding our safety by carefully choosing what we buy and who we buy it from.

So, I’d like to report another event with a Walmart truck on the highway as I was driving home with my children from my parents over the recent holidays. The difference this time is that I am very happy with what happened. While I was driving the speed limit on the highway, I came across a Walmart truck that was going slightly below the speed limit. Awesome! I was so happy to find a Walmart truck that keeps it’s lights on AND drives within the speed limit FOR OUR SAFETY. That’s a consistent message I can believe. Well done Walmart.

I realize this is not a valid scientific study by any means, but I think it’s a good idea for every shopper to observe what’s happening around them and intelligently connect different consumer issues when possible.

The downside of my trip is that the Walmart truck was the exception to the rule. I was passed by many speeding trucks. It appears many many truck drivers don’t care about highway safety and are no longer required to use highway safety equipment in their trucks.

For those retailers who brand their trucks, I hope you remain committed to highway safety by having your trucks obey the speed limits, even though your drivers are not using speed-limiting safety equipment. Your customers care about highway safety and hope you do too. I think you’ll find customers will notice and reward you if you show an honest and transparent effort to be a good corporate citizen.

Behind the Store: Truck Safety

I was travelling to my parents’ cottage for a little visit this summer. While my mind was thinking about the fun we would have at the cottage, a big transport truck came racing up behind me. As the truck approached from behind, I quickly shifted my focus from fun at the cottage to the immediate problem of making sure the truck could pass safely. After passing me on a flat strech of highway, my mind shifted to the ModShopper shopping and retail website. I don’t think I would of connected the passing truck to “shopping” if the truck wasn’t a big advertisement for Walmart. What specifically struck me was the part on the truck that says “We drive with our lights on for safety”. I wonder if Walmart thinks a speeding truck with its lights on is a safer truck than a speeding truck without its lights on.

As the truck pulled away, I started to think beyond the safety of my son and myself. It moved to the bigger question about consumer safety. Not just of the products that you take home with you, but also about how products are made and what happens before they reach the store shelf. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that today’s shoppers have more on their minds than just low everday prices. Prices may be a key part of the equation, but surely shoppers want to spend their money from stores and product producers that have low prices AND are also good corporate citizens.

As for truck/highway safety and being a good corporate citizen, I recently read about a court ruling here in Ontario that said the government cannot force truck drivers to use speed regulators which stop the truck drivers from speeding. I also found another article applicable in the US were the National Retail Federation (NRF) is supporting less truck driver regulation … “NRF Joins Truck Driver Regulations Fight“.

The real question I have is not whether government regulations are good or bad. The real question to me is whether retailers care about their customers’s safety more than they care about getting paid at a cash register. If they do, governement regulations will take care of themselves.

I’ll let the Truck Safety experts debate the merits of specific truck regulations. I sure hope they do a good job, because I feel the the safety of millions of families traveling on our highways is as important as getting everyday low prices.

Are You Being Stalked (by your friendly neighbourhood store)?

As part of researching my new business adventure, I went to my first Internet Marketing Meet-up last night. I know that a successful marketing strategy is critical to all businesses. I also know that Internet Marketing and Digital Marketing are exciting and emerging fields that will be very useful to achieve the marketing goals of most companies in the future if not already today. These new marketing techniques improve the way businesses communicate and track customers. However, as the Search Engine Marketing experts were describing the tricks and techniques of Google’s search and tracking capabilities at the Meet-up last night, the inevitable push back appeared from others in the room who did not like the feeling of being watched by Big Brother, even if Big Brother Google [or Bing/Microsoft, or FaceBook, etc.] tell us to not worry, just trust them with the details of how it works. Hmmm, are my spidey senses of distrust tingling for no good reason? 😮

As a business owner trying to sell a service using Internet & Digital Marketing technology, I concluded it will be important for me to go beyond the technical and monetary details of how the new technology works. It will also be vital to understand how the use of the technology might inadvertently lead to the negative feelings of “creepiness” and loss of privacy in my customers. I  certainly don’t want to be perceived by my customers as an “Internet Stalker” or as a company that secretly profits from undisclosed selling of their information. The potential loss of trust could be disastrous.

For business owners, my personal belief/hope is that Internet/Digital Marketing technology will continue to evolve. But the use of the new marketing technology will be guided by concepts found in 1) ClueTrain Manifesto and 2) Pull Marketing (John Hagel III). New advances in Internet and Digital Marketing will continue. This is a good thing, but it’s never too late to overlay an ethical marketing filter to whatever marketing strategy you adopt for your business.

For consumers, pay attention to what information you give to companies and how it comes back to you. Demand that companies protect your privacy. Avoid doing business with companies that you don’t trust. The Internet gives you more power to speak out when companies do not respect your privacy. Use it!