There’s been a major shift in retail. Today’s smartest retailers understand that success revolves around their ability to create a personalized experience that delivers on customer expectations. And given that customers are more informed, empowered, and connected than they’ve ever been, this is no small task.

This seismic shift toward personalized, consumer-driven retail is actually what drew me to Salesforce. Before joining the company, I spent 16 years at GAP, Inc., rising from entry-level positions to running CRM and digital marketing for the five largest specialty apparel brands in the world. In short, I know the language and the culture of retail. At GAP, Inc., I also got very interested in data and analytics, and actually began to build my personal brand in the company with my passion for technology.

For a long time, in retail, the person who ran digital marketing and analytics was just about the lowest man (or woman!) on the totem pole. It became a huge transition for the company, and the industry as a whole, to start prioritizing digital and analytics. But retail has changed so drastically — marketing departments can no longer put out a singular ad in Vogue or InStyle magazine and expect the “if we build it, they will come” approach to work.

But there’s always room to learn more, and I’ll always remember the moment when my 16-year-old niece bluntly told me, “Aunt Shelley, no one uses email. It’s for businesspeople, or for communicating with teachers at school.” In that moment, I saw very clearly that I didn’t necessarily know what was in store for the future, but I needed a platform that would enable us to grow and innovate alongside — not behind — our customers. That’s why I chose Salesforce Marketing Cloud as our digital marketing platform.

The results paid off tremendously: Our first holiday shopping season, when most retailers make over 40% of their revenue for the year, we doubled our digital revenue. That’s the power of personalization. Now the entire industry is realizing that with the right technology, you can personalize your message to each and every customer, move faster, and get big results.

While I was in my role leading digital marketing at GAP, Inc., I worked closely with Salesforce and was eventually recruited to help retailers understand how Salesforce could help them revolutionize their businesses. As Senior Vice President of Retail Industry at Salesforce, my job is leading the retail industry team and serving as the retail ambassador to our internal sales, technology, and customer success teams. My team and I help design solutions that meet the specific needs of the retail industry, and we help Salesforce speak the language of our retail customers and understand their key pain points.

It’s significant that Salesforce has invested in industry-specific solutions. Especially for retailers, the world is changing so quickly, and the challenges are so unprecedented, that you really need an industry lens to solve new problems.

Here’s an example: I grew up in a B2C world. At that time, as a retailer, you had the power — you served the ball, and the customer hit it back. But now we’re living in a Me2B world. The customer is calling the shots, and the businesses that don’t answer that call won’t survive for long. For some time, retailers have been trying to wrap their minds around the meaning of omnichannel, which can sound quite complex. But really what omnichannel means is quite simple: A customer expects you to know them and make the experience easy for them, regardless of who they are speaking to or which channel they’re using. Every single person across the entire retail organization, whether a contact center agent or store associate, should be empowered to assist the customer. If the customer can see your org chart, you're doing something wrong.

Mobile has brought the need for an omnichannel experience into sharp focus. Every retailer I meet with is thinking about how to engage customers on their mobile devices. And while mobile has absolutely transformed the entire retail industry, I don’t think that means that stores are going away anytime soon. The mall will certainly look very different, and stores will be set up unconventionally, but, according to McKinsey, in 2020 80% of retail will still happen inside a physical store. The difference? 100% of those transactions will be touched by digital. Personally, I think it’s going to happen even faster than 2020.

The good news is that brands across the entire retail landscape are rising to the challenge. More and more retailers now have innovation labs where they invite up-and-coming startups to come in and pitch different ideas that could totally transform the business — like virtual reality, 3D printing, ibeacons, and so much more. These innovation labs aren’t just some side project — they are key pieces of how companies (even large legacy companies) are pursuing transformational change that connects the business more deeply to its customers.

The next step is that companies now have a laundry list of apps they’re trying to keep up with as they continue to experiment, but they don’t know how to stitch that experimentation journey together. That’s where Salesforce comes in — we help you understand the customer in each of those contexts and create a seamless, personalized experience with the customer at the center. The ability to weave seamless commerce into every customer touchpoint will continue to expand the amazing customer journeys that companies are already building. The physical and digital worlds are completely blending, and every company needs the right tools to be able to thrive in the age of Me2B.

To learn more about how connected shoppers are transforming retail, download the free Connected Shopper Research Report.