Hilmar Scheel is the Chief Digital Officer at Switzerland-based Valora Group, leading the company’s digital transformation for a European retailer that already reaches 1.4 million customers daily at high frequency locations like railway stations and airports.

We caught up with Scheel before heading to the South by South West conference in Austin, Texas.

WHAT DO YOU DO?

 As Chief Digital Officer at Valora, I lead the new Valora Lab, with locations in Switzerland and Silicon Valley. Through different digital initiatives we also frequently visit other innovation hubs such as Berlin and London. Our task is to develop and evaluate new digital solutions and business ideas. The Lab uses sector-overarching digital platforms to interact with start-up firms, talented young IT specialists and other companies.

We’ve realized initial projects in a number of areas. There’s our pilot project in Zurich, analyzing customer footfall together with a Berlin-based startup. We introduced an app for our coffee chain Caffè Spettacolo, which allows for remote ordering and payment. We have a Scan&Go pilot project running at some outlets, too, which speeds up transactions during rush hour. We’ve also worked very closely with a US startup, Zyudlylabs to analyze our transactions data and start our retail analytics efforts. We are also very excited by the upcoming launch of an app for the k kiosk shops, to manage digital offers and stamps.

WHY DO YOU DO IT?

Retail isn’t immune to disruption. Thanks to our strong relationships with Silicon Valley, we’ve witnessed the impact of new services like Postmates, BlueApron, or Starbucks Mobile Order on the way people get their food and beverages. Today, in brick and mortar shops around the world, people use smartphones to compare prices, read reviews, and pay. It’s only just the beginning. Very soon, we’ll interact with robots to find products, and use VR and AR to optimize store layouts and marketing.

So, technology is having a profound impact on how people shop, online and offline. Retailers such as Valora have to invest in their tech capabilities to provide digital shopping experiences to their customers. At the same time, retailers have to build an IT infrastructure and supply chain to support a seamless and frictionless customer experience.

The situation has changed over recent years. Ten years ago, offline companies tried to build an online experience. Today, many new, purely online companies realize the value of a physical presence. It’s not only to increase brand recognition and provide services, but also to have customer access. The latest example is Amazon Go. Valora, with its 2,500 high-frequency locations and unmatched opening hours, is well positioned to bridge both worlds and to become the “gateway to the offline world”.

WHAT’S NEXT?

At Valora, we are thinking a lot about the future. We are already seeing early signals of an upcoming trend that will transform how people shop. The Internet of Things will be ubiquitous, and algorithms will make sense of all this new information to provide new shopping experiences.

So, instead of seeing you are out of milk and turning to your laptop to reorder, the refrigerator sees you are out of milk and will automatically re-order it for you. All you need to do is drink it.

We are seeing many opportunities to leverage this trend to better serve our customers. Our Spettacolo coffee shops will prepare your favorite drink when a customer arrives at the neighboring train station en route to work. Our k kiosk will share relevant promotions on digital screens when you walk in.

That’s why we’re at SXSW, in fact. We’re hoping startups with fresh ideas, tech and approaches will reach out to us and arrange for a meeting at the conference to discuss the exciting future of retail!