Q&A with Keith Hontz, CEO and President of Savantis, on Tech in the Retail Sector

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By Linda Farha

Retail Insider sat down with Keith Hontz, CEO and President of Savantis, a leader in global IT staffing, a SAP Gold Partner with a full-service consulting practice, to discuss solutions for the retail industry that can be beneficial to all merchants, especially during these difficult times.

Retail Insider: Can you tell us a little bit about your career and what got you to where you are today?

Hontz: I’ve always had a great passion for technology and pursued my interest by completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science at James Madison University, and rounded out my education with an MBA from the University of Delaware. After graduating, I spent the first six years of my career at DuPont Information Systems, working as a project manager deploying sales and marketing systems. I then joined SAP America where I was engaged in several senior roles spanning from consulting, presales, product management, sales, sales management, industry leadership to developing and mentoring start-ups, and more. Over the course of my nearly 25-year tenure at SAP, I built strong relationships with customers and contributed to the company’s growth across multiple channels. In 2019, I pivoted my career by leveraging my enterprise experience to strategically increase revenues with mid-size tech companies. This began at SocketLabs, a leader in high-volume email infrastructure, where I was the CEO of the company, and, most recently, with Savantis as CEO and President.

RI: What does Savantis do and what are the company’s key benefits for the retail sector?

Hontz: At Savantis, we help companies improve their overall operational efficiency by providing IT staffing and delivering end-to-end solutions with SAP, the world-leading enterprise application software company in the world. Our key benefit for the retail sector is our ability to bridge the gaps for mid-sized retailers when it comes to planning, procuring, and supplying, as they are faced with the same challenges as national chains. With many decades of experience, our expert team at Savantis recognize retailers’ needs and can implement SAP Retail Solutions that help win over modern-day shoppers by providing a fully omnichannel experience to consumers. The wants and needs of modern-day retail consumers are ever changing – but their expectations for authentic, quality experiences only ever seem to increase. So, we strive to help retailers bridge the gaps and increase their customer experiences and ROI, through the improvement of overall operational efficiency.

RI: Since the start of COVID-19, has the way you support the retail industry resulted in other benefits?

Hontz: Our solutions have always helped streamline operations and as a result, improve the bottom line. We live in fluid times and now, more than ever, companies need to be efficient and nimble to pivot effectively. The retail industry is no exception and, in fact, is an example of a sector that shifted dramatically because of COVID. We are able to keep up with the new reality of the retail industry since we, ourselves, use the same operational processes to ensure that we can support our clients.

RI: What do you think the future of retail requires?

Hontz: The future of retail requires simplification. Reviewing operational processes and optimizing them can achieve this. Savantis comes in to play here with a number of solutions. Through IT staffing and innovative technology from SAP we can begin implementing comprehensive Customer Experience solutions to achieve simplification, optimizing retailers’ success.

RI: As you look forward, how do you think COVID-19 will impact consumer demands?

Hontz: A lot of it boils down to simple personalization. Retailers need to understand what drives consumers to buy and ensure that their experiences and interactions with your brand are extremely positive. The retail industry has already seen a major shift in consumer demand since the start of the pandemic, specifically value-driven buying habits. Many people are more budget conscious, which translates into price comparison and deeper research for the right deal, so it is critical to build trust as this equates to loyalty. Another key consideration is the buying environment and ensuring that it feels safe and welcoming.

RI: How can retailers learn to understand the changing demands of consumers and work towards ensuring that consumers feel comfortable in the new retail environment?

Hontz: It’s no surprise that massive retailers like Walmart have seen their e-commerce business grow enormously during the coronavirus pandemic, as millions of people have avoided venturing into stores. It is essential to remember that no two customers will have the same comfort level, so it is essential to provide an environment that can adapt accordingly. A way to achieve this is to implement an omnichannel experience. Using innovative technologies, retailers can create an environment that can change and adapt based on the consumer’s needs. This ensures that their customers are being served with the right information on a product, the best price, and additional benefits when engaging with them.

RI: What exactly is an omnichannel experience? And why is it something to think about when looking ahead for the retail industry?

Hontz: An omnichannel experience recognizes that a customer may begin looking in one particular channel, such as in store, but move into another, their mobile phone, as they progress through their purchasing decision. This multi-channel approach to sales aims to provide a seamless shopping experience for the customer through the integration of technology, personalized content and communications, and data. When effectively implemented, an omnichannel experience allows a retailer to use their knowledge of a consumer’s engagement with the brand and offers them a full-circle positive experience. It is imperative that the implementation of an omnichannel strategy is evaluated when looking ahead at the retail industry as it benefits both brands and their consumers. While consumers are rewarded with a seamless and integrated experience, retailers are able to foster and build authentic, long-term relationships with their consumers. It is these positive relationships between consumers and brands that keep consumers willing to spend money and remain loyal in the future.

RI: Do you have any advice for small businesses that are competing online with large-scale retailers?

Hontz: As a small business, you need to stand out. You must have a key beneficial aspect that sets you apart from the bigger guys. And while large-scale online businesses use technological advances to their advantage, so can you. For example, a smaller business can match the online experience that bigger retailers can provide while additionally providing a more personalized and digital in-store experience for consumers, that large-scale retailers simply cannot deliver.

RI: Do you have any concerns about the challenges that may arise from going digital?

Hontz: With digital challenges, come digital solutions. And with the best overall operational efficiency, which Savantis can help provide through IT staffing and end-to-end solutions with SAP, no digital challenge is ever too big to be met with a digital solution.

Global IT staffing, a SAP Gold Partner with a full-service consulting practice, and an Industry Solution Provider to discuss the company’s solutions for the retail industry and how they may be beneficial to all merchants, especially during these difficult times.

IT staffing and delivering end-to-end solutions with SAP, a world-leading business software.

RI: Can you tell us more about a digital solution you have recently implemented?

Hontz: One of our clients, Sports Basement, a San Francisco-based sporting goods store, was experiencing 60% of their customers showrooming (browsing products then buying online somewhere because they felt it was a better price). In order to drive in-store purchases and develop consumer trust, Savantis developed an in-store mobile app to give customers the ability to scan a product and make a real-time price comparison, providing them with a best-price buying confidence before completing their purchase.

RI: Do you have any final thoughts or piece of advice?

Hontz: Yes, retail has had a tough go lately and the implementation of digital technologies, such as SAP technologies and omnichannel experiences, in the retail industry may seem scary and is likely an unchartered territory for many, but it is key to remember that technology can offer a leg up, and a differentiator for your brand, especially when maximizing the overall operational efficiency of your company.

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