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A Trifecta Of Woes Cry Out For Location Analytics In Retail

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We live in interesting times. The world is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown resulting from the pandemic has created an unemployment spike not seen since the Great Depression (that’s 1929, not 2008). And the murder of a black citizen by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota has led to protests and riots against racism in the streets of cities large and small around the world.

Whatever your politics, you must agree that every one of these situations has a major impact on retail, yesterday, today, and tomorrow (with many tomorrows to come).

I truly don’t know how a retailer can manage this conflation of awful events without a technology like location analytics. I touched on this a few weeks ago in a summary of technologies retailers will need to get through the COVID crisis. But that was before the murder of George Floyd, and the chaos that has ensued around the world.

It’s not surprising that large protests have taken place in Minneapolis and other major cities like New York (retail store windows were smashed in Midtown Manhattan and stores looted, for example). But some of the places that have been ransacked are very surprising. Walnut Creek, California (former home of RSR partner Brian Kilcourse) was trashed and stores looted. In Asheville, North Carolina police were seen destroying a medical aid station near a local protest. Independent retailer friends in Providence, Rhode Island have pre-emptively boarded up their store windows, just in case. A population that has basically been trapped indoors for three months is taking to the streets and almost anything can happen, anywhere.

And that’s where location analytics comes in. Here’s an example: it took Brian to explain to me that Walnut Creek is only a couple of BART stops from Oakland, making it an attractive target for bad actors. Are there are other communities like Walnut Creek that might want to consider pre-emptive store closings? What routes do store workers have to take to get to work? What times are curfews in various areas, and which stores must be notified to make some changes, or just stay closed?

Further, all these protesters, pressed closely together, make for a nice Petri dish for COVID to flourish in. Areas with large pockets of unemployment are more likely targets for the next big mess. But the “where of it” is not readily apparent. In this age of massive retailers, you can’t figure it out by hand or logic.

Why doesn’t logic work? Well, for example, it seems as though generally, Miami where I live, hasn’t got the memo that the economy is in the tank. This is totally counter-intuitive. Certainly, restaurants and hotels are not in very good economic shape and one would expect that an empty tourist town is a likely source of poverty and chaos. But it doesn’t really feel like it.

I tend to view the economy here based on the work and responsiveness of tradesmen: how quickly they respond when you call, and how thorough they are when they come. So far, by my measures the trades are incredibly busy. We’ve had terrible rains after a long draught. Septic tanks are overflowing, streets have flooded, roofs are leaking…good luck finding someone to “get right out there.” I’ve been waiting for a non-essential part for my air conditioner for over a month and have had to learn how to fix many parts of my pool myself. I’m not whining. I actually like playing with mechanical things. But there’s a point here. The situation is just not what you would expect. By all rights, things should be awful. So far, they’re not. I suspect we’ll get there, but we’re not there yet.

So what does this mean for retailers? It’s true that an efficient retailer can get clean-up in place quickly. But the true art form is to manage these situations proactively. I really believe that someone within the retail enterprise should be reading the news, checking on the status of our trifecta of woes in local areas and making recommendations to senior management. If this thesis is correct, I just don’t know how you can get it done without technology to support location analytics.

To add a touch of complexity to the US picture, we’re hearing that the Republican National Convention is going to be moved to another location from Charlotte, North Carolina. The plan is to take no precautions against COVID at that new location whatsoever. No masks. No distancing. Just a rowdy large group of people cheering for their candidate and then heading out to the streets to eat and shop. What should retailers do? The decision of what to do is one thing. The decision of where to do it is quite another.

I’m just now working on the survey for our upcoming benchmark on location analytics. It’s all about COVID and business continuity. Well, it turns out the world isn’t standing still. Other things are happening. So far, it’s a trifecta, but hurricane season is coming: a tropical storm is already floating around in the gulf. Somehow, three days into “official” hurricane season, we are already up to named storm number three – Cristobal, and it’s expected to make landfall.

This is a lot. It’s a lot for grocers, it’s a lot for home improvement retailers, it’s a lot for luxury retailers, it’s a lot for grocery and it’s a lot for already stressed supply chains. I’m looking forward to hearing how retailers are planning to cope with the current trifecta of woes, with new ones coming rapidly on their tails.

There is no part in me that understands how this can be done without major automation that supports alerts and rapid-fire, technology-enabled decision-making. Maybe you’ll prove me wrong or show me the error of my ways in your survey responses. But man, this is a hard one. I really would like to know what you think. Stay tuned.

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