Google Cloud VP of Retail Carrie Tharp has a long background of embracing disruption. Having joined the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant in July, she might be a relative newcomer, but she is no stranger to developing and supporting technology for the changing retail landscape.
Tharp spent the past three years at Neiman Marcus Group creating the luxury retailer’s digital-first strategy, including shifting to a cloud-centric software stack for marketing and ecommerce and leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive programs like digital styling, personalized promos and algorithmic buying. Before that, she was immersed in similar tasks at Fossil and Travelocity.
One theme that weaves throughout her career: Tharp embraces the challenge of shepherding retail brands through disruption and helping them evolve the way they interact with customers.
“Google has emerged as the retail innovation partner of choice,” Tharp says. “We have products that touch every part of the customer journey, whether it’s YouTube from an inspiration discovery phase to Google Pay as a payment and promotion tool. Google Cloud for Retail helps retail businesses drive their digital transformation using data analytics including AI and machine learning to make the customer experience more personalized and seamless.”
At NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian and Kohl’s CTO Paul Gaffney will discuss how Kohl’s leverages the Google Cloud Platform for omnichannel retail. Ahead of that presentation, NRF spoke with Tharp who shared some insight on Google Cloud for Retail and set the stage for the upcoming session.
What’s your role at Google Cloud?
As vice president of retail, I’m in charge of the strategy at the global level for all of our retail and consumer product companies as well as driving that specific product roadmap. My day-to-day is spent creating solutions to help drive value in the retailers’ P&L, whether that’s creating revenue growth through loyalty and customer engagement opportunities or helping improve margins through different tools merchants can use to help optimize operations throughout their business.
How does Google Cloud help retailers drive innovation and growth for their businesses?
We think of our strategy in terms of three pillars. The first is digital acceleration: How do you leverage technology in the context of your business, whether it’s stores or online, to speed up the transformation of your retail business? In peak season, specifically Black Friday through Cyber Monday, we offer retailers the confidence that their systems are going to sustain increased traffic loads. We help manage those loads using several AI-based tools tied to retailers’ P&L to drive value, such as merchandising solutions needed to help manage margin, loyalty and personalization.
The second pillar is built around customer-centric, data-driven retailing. The linchpin of that is our BigQuery tool. It offers retailers the ability to bring together data that typically sits in separate systems — incapable of operating in real time — and allows users to query massive amounts of data, conduct interactive analysis of the information and thus change experiences in real time.
The final pillar is around the operational improvement bucket. We can help retailers reduce IT costs, streamline ecommerce operations and restructure workforce management with an eye toward empowering the store-based workforce.
One word that has woven through so many of your comments is “experience.” How does Google Cloud drive breakthrough experiences for retailers and their customers?
I think it boils down to how retailers can use Google’s AI-based capabilities to make the customer feel like you really know who they are and build that relationship. At Neiman, the associate’s connection to customers is legendary. The challenge is to bring that forward in today’s day and age when the shopper journey is more complex. Sometimes that means a faster experience — sometimes it’s more personalized, private and high-touch. The ability to understand what journey the customer wants to be on and recognizing that it can be different from interaction to interaction is powered by AI. There are partners we’re working with that are innovating new app experiences for trying on makeup and outfits. All are empowered by underlying AI and machine-learning-based capabilities.
Another way we’re focused on changing the experience is from the retailer’s point of view. IT and digital retail executives typically fund their own journey. They have a roadmap of things they want to do in stores and online to change the customer experience, but there are quarterly earnings and growth pressures. Google Cloud provides a means to unlock some of those efficiency and optimization possibilities so retailers have more time and money to go after experience-based opportunities that will help drive their businesses forward.
Any thoughts on what’s to come in 2020?
Much of what we’re thinking about as we look at our 2020 retail roadmap revolves around how we can create personalization at scale and weave this into the overall customer journey. We’re focused on creating business optimization in real time using Google Cloud technology like BigQuery and Cloud Spanner to surface intelligent insights about shopper preferences that can drive real value. For example, product discovery has been a big focus as it impacts the quality of the customer journey and retailer’s bottom line.
We’re also looking at how customers are interacting with websites and other channels to engage in commerce, and that includes voice or conversational commerce. We’ve made tremendous strides with product recommendations and visual search. Over the next year or so we will continue to see innovation around voice commerce that will become far more compelling for retailers and consumers.
There’s a lot of AI behind Google Search that understands the intent of what people are searching for, and at scale, globally what people mean by different phrases. Even when a shopper doesn’t know how to describe what they’re looking for, Google Search has a pretty high likelihood of getting them where you want to go. Bringing that thought process to retail and using conversational commerce in the same way as one might if they were talking to an associate will get far less clunky in 2020.
Want to learn more from Tharp? Don’t miss her Exhibitor Big Ideas sessions at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show.