The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

2017: The Year The Store Can Wait No Longer


Normally at this time of year I’m thinking futuristic things. What will be the cool and exciting things that will happen in retail in the year to come? This year, I find myself a tad more grim. Don’t get me wrong. I want a future of flying cars and space travel and replicators. And when it comes to retail, I want to see the future of shopping – all the glory of fully-realized virtual reality and sensors and algorithms that sense and respond to my every need – before I even realize I need it.

But we’ve got a long way to go to get there, and the store is not just become a yellow light on the warning panel, it’s starting to turn over to red.

Here’s how the conversation usually goes.

Retailer: My stores are in trouble. We need to do something to make them healthy again.

Me: Your stores are obsolete. The shopping process has changed enough that the shopping process you built your stores to serve no longer exists except as an exception, rather than a rule.

Retailer: Well, I can only afford to make incremental changes in stores. So what kind of technology can I buy that will make my stores suddenly relevant again.

Me: One technology investment is not enough, and it won’t make any difference if you don’t understand how that investment is supposed to help stores reshape the store experience.

What it comes down to is this. Do you really believe that incremental investments in in-store technology, or even, heaven forbid, employee training is going to be enough to make stores as relevant to the shopping process as they were in 2001?

If you believe the answer is yes, then I wish you luck, and I hope for your sake that you’re right.

If you believe the answer is no, then your whole thinking about retail needs to change. It is about the shopper journey, but the store – as it is designed today – increasingly plays a smaller and smaller role in that journey. One technology investment, one training video is not going to change that underlying reality.

I see more and more retailers recognizing this fundamental gap between what stores are and what they need to be. I think 2017 will be the year of that tipping point – where more retailers acknowledge that stores as they exist today will not be the physical selling assets of tomorrow, and they cannot be made into that selling asset of tomorrow with merely cosmetic changes.

This is a dangerous time for store-based retail. As I’ve said before, sure, stores won’t die. There will always be stores. But will they be YOUR stores? I am positive that there are retailers who will figure out the future of the store, and that future store will look only in some ways like it does today. But the question is still there: will that be YOU?

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Articles & Opinions January 3, 2017
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