Either win … or learn from it

Text: Redaktion ceo Magazin | Photos: Andreas Zimmermann | Magazine: Customer focus – January 2019

Tobias Kindler, MediaMarkt Switzerland’s Chief Digital Officer, is leading his company into a new digital dimension – one where the customer is the absolute focal point and experiences technological achievements via both analogue and digital communication and distribution channels.

Actually, his title is inappropriate. “Chief Digital Officer” makes it sound like Tobias Kindler is only responsible for digital technologies. His unofficial, but more descriptive job designation would be “Chief Digital Customer Officer”. He’s dedicated to dealing with digitally influenced and stimulated customer behaviour. He therefore concentrates mainly on the fully informed, multichannelled and cost-sensitive Customer 4.0; a person who pays attention to price, availability and service, and whose contacts with MediaMarkt are 70 to 80 per cent in a digital mode. Kindler’s task is to translate this behaviour into a successful corporate strategy, strengthen the company’s online business and tie it even more closely to the point of sale. In short: multichannelling.

“Never again will the world change as slowly as it does today.”

In-store digital

Some 65 per cent of all home electronics products are still purchased in stores. “We want to continue to participate in this attractive market,” says Kindler. Stationary retailing is one of MediaMarkt’s core competencies: it optimally complements the company’s digital retailing efforts and offers customers decisive advantages over pure online retailers, for example in the form of personalised advice and service expertise. So it’s not out of naïveté that online giants such as Amazon or Zalando are opening physical shops. The bricks-and-mortar route is indeed more capital-intensive and complicated than online trading. But MediaMarkt has a valuable know-how advantage in this discipline.

“MediaMarkt’s previous stationary concept represented nothing more than what the Internet had to offer: simple product presentation, low prices, wide selection.” But our ambitious digital expert wants to change this, because that’s not the way the Internet or the customer functions these days. “Our concept has been broadened to include digital sales, services and multichannel shopping experiences. Customers can shop with us when and wherever they want and still enjoy all the ancillary services associated with the products they buy. We call this a ‘seamless shopping and service experience’.”

A first-hand, on/off experience

“What I buy is becoming progressively less important than how I buy,” says Kindler in describing the current trend in customer thought. That’s why MediaMarkt has introduced in-store shopping adventures on so-called experience islands. In this regard, MediaMarkt’s redesigned superstore in Dietlikon is the first of its kind in Switzerland. Nine islands have been installed there as a test run: from the kitchenette, to the virtual reality corner, to the DJ stage, customers can try out the products in a simulated real-life environment. Of course, the same kind of products can also be found at competing stores, but this unique live experience makes MediaMarkt stand out from the crowd.

Tobias Kindler has been Chief Digital Officer of MediaMarkt Group Switzerland since 1 March 2018. In that capacity, he bears responsibility for the expansion and networking of the company’s online and offline businesses, as well as for marketing and pricing. Previously, he headed the Multichannel Concepts division at corporate headquarters in Ingolstadt, a task that involved the linking of markets, the online store and mobile shopping in all 14 European countries where MediaMarkt is present. Prior to joining parent company Media-Saturn in 2010, he spent eight years as a strategy and management consultant to companies in Germany, Great Britain, Australia and the USA. A banker by training, he studied foreign trade and international management in Hamburg and Cape Town. Tobias Kindler is the father of one daughter and currently shifts between residences in Zurich and Hamburg.

Store to Web

In order to expand the experience dimension even further, MediaMarkt has furnished its consultants at the POS with tablets and a wealth of information. This enables a sales consultant to show the customer all product-specific ratings, reviews and comparisons. As a result, customers have assurance that they’re getting the best value for money. Moreover, the motto “If we don’t have it, it doesn’t exist” applies at MediaMarkt. If an item isn’t available from stock, the consultant can order it directly online via the tablet and have it delivered to the customer’s home. With this store-to-web approach, MediaMarkt extends its shelves by the virtual breadth of its online shop.

Welcome to the Club

A targeted, demand-consistent approach for reaching out to customers is one of Kindler’s main missions. “The customer expects to be addressed according to his or her own needs and via the right channels. If a retailer doesn’t meet this need, customers will strike that seller from their relevant list.” For that reason, MediaMarkt relies on customer relationship management. For example, the MediaMarkt Club is planned for launch at the beginning of 2019. This international programme is designed to inspire people to be repeat shoppers at MediaMarkt. The company wants to get to know its customers even better. However, this isn’t going to be achieved by giving them loyalty points or discounts; rather, it will take the form of small gifts, events or the chance to win an entire purchase for free. With its new Club, MediaMarkt is paying the kind of attention that turns customers into loyal and satisfied brand fans.

Hello, Switzerland

Switzerland is a special challenge for this northern Germany native. Although it’s one of the most digital countries in Europe, Switzerland has in the past been one of the weakest in terms of digital-based revenues for MediaMarkt. Kindler wants to steer the company back on the right track. “We have to turn the current situation around so that in a few years we’ll be the largest online retailer in Switzerland with the hottest markets.” Kindler and his team have already brought the digital channel up to European standards. Now he wants to enhance it with even more convenience – and this via comparability, reviews, customer opinions, usability and, most of all, much more “Wow!”.

Rule #1: Learning from mistakes

Anyone who experiments has to make mistakes along the way – and learn from those errors. Kindler quotes Nelson Mandela: “I never lose. I either win or learn.” According to Kindler, these words describe the bold “No blame, no shame” mindset that he’d like to engrain in MediaMarkt’s corporate culture. But the ability to forgive mistakes needs to be learned. In many circles, committing a faux pas is a capital no-no, let alone fessing up to it. “So make mistakes and make them public. This is the only way we can learn from them.” Kindler is trying to instil this thinking in the minds of his people. Alas, another difficult task.

MediaMarkt has been present in Switzerland for 25 years, operates 27 specialised retail stores and employs a total of 1,200 people. According to online market research company Marketagent.com Switzerland, MediaMarkt is the most popular company in the Swiss consumer electronics market.


Act instead of react

The new no blame, no shame culture is not the only internal adjustment at MediaMarkt. Today, the company must be able to react much more quickly to changes. “Never again will the world change as slowly as it does today.” Kindler cites drones as an example of technology-driven hypercompetition. “When this technology emerged, it took far too long to get these gadgets into the store.” That’s why the Group is moving away from a classic department-based corporate structure to agile teams that are delegated overall vertical responsibility: from strategy and purchasing, to marketing and sales management. By doing so, Kindler wants to break up internal silos and make the organisation more agile.

Inspiration from an array of sources

In tackling his mission, Tobias Kindler relies on various sources of inspiration. One of them is the company’s own DNA. The Group has always been in a state of flux, constantly augmenting its concept or even trimming parts of it. But the course of change is more radical today. Here, thought must be given to how the company’s core competency – e.g. the product – can be placed in a new context. For example, by selling solutions and services instead of just products. Naturally, Kindler is also keeping a curious eye on international trade, which would represent another paradigm shift. Together with other retailers, the MediaMarkt Group has created an international accelerator for innovation. Start-ups can present their inventions within the framework of a competition. If the idea is convincing, the aspects of viable mass production and mass appeal are examined. Finally, if all systems are go, MediaMarkt consults consumers directly. A customer engagement programme is currently underway that actually involves them in the innovation process. The community poll on the “Spass der Woche” (Hit of the week) is a regular advertising format in which MediaMarkt offers particularly popular and unusual products at a preferential price. In general, though, the company is cautious with technological novelties. “Technology always has to solve a customer problem,” and a gadget that bypasses customer needs is doomed to failure.

Tobias Kindler
Brief questions, short answers

Work-life balance?
Too much work, too little life.

Favourite app?
The MediaMarkt app, naturally. But also Google Maps as well as news and weather apps.

Favourite meal?
Home-made hamburger patties, a speciality of – where else? – Hamburg and its surroundings!

Your most valuable tip for business life?
Stay authentic and honest. Charlatans get their comeuppance sooner or later.

What do you wish personally for the future?
That we’ll be extremely successful with MediaMarkt as an enterprise and in Switzerland specifically.

What do you appreciate today that’s still the way it always was?
The personal discussion.