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Serving Society and Accelerating Growth in the Retail Revolution


By Todd Tillemans, Corporate EVP, President Customer Development, Unilever US

Todd Tillemans, standing with 2 male employees

The retail industry has seen unprecedented change over the past 15 years.

A once rigid and linear path to purchase driven by visiting brick and mortar stores has transformed into a fragmented and non-linear consumer journey.

As Executive Vice President and Head of Customer Development for Unilever US, I clearly see the reason for this shift: a proliferation of consumer touch points driven by the rise of digital and social media. Adapting to this new reality will not be easy for retailers and manufacturers. Everything starts with the consumer, their journey and how they make decisions. We’ve stepped into a completely different landscape where the stakes are higher than ever.

So the question is: how can our industry face the retail revolution head-on?

Serving Society and Accelerating Growth in the Retail Revolution

Confidence is key

At Unilever, we're excited and confident; our mantra is not to cope with, but to lead the retail revolution. That means building fresh digital proficiency across our portfolio and enhancing existing leading-edge capability.

To meet this new reality with a confident growth agenda, we’re taking up a suite of activities to upskill our people – and, through them, our retailers too. Our customer development teams are leading the way with industry-leading knowledge across several key areas:

  1. Perfect Store Online: The front door of every store now begins online, with 58% of all trips beginning in a digital/mobile touchpoint. We optimize this digital shopping experience across all seven omni-channel assets (Name, Hero Image, Search, Product Detail Pages, Ratings and Reviews, Subscription and Warnings) to create an effortless and enjoyable experience for consumers, and to improve conversion online and offline.
  2. Convergence of Digital and Physical: The convergence of the digital and physical worlds can help us create better physical shopping that prioritizes rich brand experiences and simplified assortments but still maintains maximum consumer choice via the digital endless aisle.
  3. Perfect Store Execution: We partner with retailers and technology providers to help automate and digitize the measurement of planogram compliance and out-of-stocks in physical stores. This data rich approach helps us show how and where products should be placed in store to improve sales.
  4. Smart Data: We leverage a robust set of data sources within a sophisticated data analytics and visualization platform to quickly go from insights to action, to accelerate growth.

With this know-how, our teams are building expertise and helping retailers navigate the coming revolution and, in turn, growing our mutual business.

Everything starts with the consumer, their journey and how they make decisions.

A sustainable revolution

At Unilever, growing our business has always been about looking further than our company. Business thrives in an environment where society thrives.

It goes all the way back to William Hesketh Lever, our founder, who was very much a social entrepreneur. He lived in Victorian England, a place where disease was common and hygiene uncommon. So he created Sunlight Soap to popularize cleanliness and hygiene, addressing the greatest societal need of his time.

Today, we are accelerating growth and serving society through the targets set out in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). The USLP is not a corporate social responsibility scheme; it’s our model for growth.

It teaches us that leading the retail revolution means not just reacting to evolutions in consumer behavior – but driving them too.

Market development

An example is our commitment to improving man’s greatest invention: the city. Partnering with the city of New York, we’re working to build healthier communities and accelerate sustainable change in the Big Apple.

Despite having some of the most expensive real estate in the world, there are areas in New York that still have critical needs to address. In East Harlem, for example, rates of obesity and diabetes are above national rates and are climbing, while access to affordable, fresh food is low.

With the help of Unilever employee volunteers, we're building a network of urban farms in the neighborhood that will be tended to by local residents who will receive fresh fruit and vegetables. It's part of a system we're cultivating to drive market development in the city that includes intergenerational cooking classes and educating shopkeepers on perfect store set-up.

The USLP is at the heart of it all. Helping people make healthy choices and adopt culinary skills will allow them to improve their health and well-being for a lifetime.

The USLP is not a corporate social responsibility scheme; it’s our model for growth.

What it means to me

We’re thrilled to be serving the City and inspiring a brighter future for its residents: exploring the breathtaking potential of the new retail landscape is even more rewarding when you’re able to serve society through the brands you’re working on.

Whether it’s Ben & Jerry’s campaigning on inclusion and climate change, Dove inspiring self-esteem and confidence or Vaseline’s commitment to healing, brand after brand we’re bringing purpose to the societies we serve. No matter how technology or retail develops, being a part of these stories is something I will always be proud of.

Whether you’re looking for an internship, graduate opportunity or job opening to progress your professional career, at Unilever you can shape your own path as you work with the brands and people that drive our sustainable business growth. Discover more by following us on LinkedIn.

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