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

My First Ever Podcast – On The Post-Amazon World

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Over the course of my analyst career, I’ve been on TV, radio, given speeches and webinars, been quoted in lots of newspaper articles, and of course, I do still write for Forbes from time to time. But I somehow managed to miss participating in a podcast.

That changed last week, when the good folks over at MarketScale invited me to join them for their Retail podcast. It was longer than I expected it would be (20 minutes, 22 seconds), and was pretty far-ranging. I had the opportunity to explain what RSR does and how we do it, and then we got into the subject at hand: Amazon. Before we got to the Amazon story, and the effect of hyper-promotionalism, I was asked how we work with retailers.

This is a topic we don’t speak about very often, but it is definitely something we do. Of course, all our research is free for anyone and everyone to read, but we also participate in engagements with retailers.

It’s a delicate balance for us. Because one of our core tenets is absolute vendor objectivity, we don’t participate in vendor selection at all. But we can (and have) recommend ways to hone technology roadmaps, rationalize portfolios, and make some sense out of IT organizational structures (which were in a pretty dysfunctional state just a short time ago, with the marketing organization owning and running their own IT shops, and the IT group basically relegated to being “plumbers”).

With a few of us having served as CIOs, we can’t abide by that kind of disorder, and with the help of our partners we have fixed this for some retailers. And it’s actually fun and very satisfying to make order out of disorder.

But having discussed this, we moved on to the subject of Amazon, and what it means to operate as a retailer in a post-Amazon world. Of course, Amazon isn’t going away, any more than Walmart is going away (earlier in my analyst career, I used to quite enjoy talking about a post-Walmart world).

In some ways, Amazon has driven more retail change than Walmart did. Walmart killed off entire swaths and segments of the retail industry. Mom and pops appeared to be a dying breed. Worthy of note: today, independent retailers are having a resurgence, most especially in New York City. Business of Fashion actually calls it New York’s Retail Reawakening (paywall!). Here’s a quote:

“We’re seeing an uptick in leasing… It’s very fertile ground,” said Jeffrey Roseman, the retail vice chairman at brokerage Newmark Knight Frank. “A new world of retailers that didn’t exist five to 10 years ago are taking the place of Toys R Us and Payless.”

But Amazon hasn’t done much to damage independent retailers. You could argue that being part of their marketplace helps jumpstart some startups. It’s the largest retailers that have been pressured to lower prices, find new reasons for shoppers to come to their stores and keep up with seemingly impossible delivery time standards.

Still, despite all odds, savvy retailers - and in some cases, mall operators - have grown determined to both improve and re-invent the in-store experience. Traffic is starting to stabilize. There’s a long way to go to improve employee engagement, but I think we’ll ultimately get there. No market is infinite, and just as retailers have found ways to be successful in a post-Walmart world (Walmart is not among the U.S.’s favorite grocers, honors that belong instead to Publix and Wegman’s), retailers like Best Buy are finding ways to be successful by guaranteeing low prices (taking that part off the table) and improving their in-store and online shopping experiences (and every combination thereof).

So, the bottom line was that I really enjoyed my first podcast experience. When it was done, I was surprised that I could remain engaged listening to myself for 20 minutes. After all, I’ve grown more than a little ADHD over the years and I’ve heard all my stories before. I attribute the quality of the podcast to the talent of the host and the pre-planning they had me do. Honestly, I hope I get to do one like it again.

 


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Articles & Opinions August 7, 2018
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