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

The CXO Summit – A Chance To Catch Up With Old And New Retail Friends

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It has been a long fourteen months, and a long spell of small phone calls about technology, and analysis at-a-distance on where retailers are heading. Thanks to Cathy Hotka, though, I had the opportunity to talk with thirty-eight retail CXO’s and some of their trusted vendors last week at her virtual CXO Summit. I have to say, a splendid time was had by all.

Cathy knows how to bring a crowd together. Subjects covered were wide-ranging – from the newly dispersed workforce to aligning supply with demand, to retailers becoming technologists, to vendor drop ship direct to customer. And that was just the first day!

The second day (which I was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict) was a discussion around the in-store experience, the next generation of store operations, marketing in the post- COVID age and finally analytics, analytics, analytics.

My first takeaway was how much I’d missed sitting around a table (virtual or otherwise) with C-level retailers talking about the issues they face. I don’t really think of myself as a terribly social person, but these guys really got my juices going.

My second takeaway was a reminder that for retail, COVID was the great accelerant. And the impact of the pandemic still reverberates around our now, somewhat fragile world.

Let’s start with the workforce. I had assumed headquarters personnel would either work from home and come in for meetings from time to time or go back to the office (running away from pets, domestic distractions and other at-home events). Well, it turns out there’s a hybrid to this model – people coming into the office 2-3 days a week and working from home the rest of the week. Attendees were ready for all iterations, and one retailer, in particular is already filling open positions from any city anywhere, if the person has the right qualifications. Just about all attendees reported taking a hard look at office space needs and thinking fewer offices and cubicles and more open meeting space is the better approach. On the one hand, I’ve never been a fan of not having a “home” when I go to work…musical desks isn’t quite my idea of a good time, but consulting firms have done it for years. I would suppose those employees who are committed to coming to the office regularly will have their “homes” away from home.

Then, we moved on to a discussion of the demand chain and aligning supply and demand. There was a lot of talk about supply chain issues, which most of us recognize remain. But we also got into a discussion about demand. Demand as in “How the heck do you forecast sales in 2021…or even 2022, really?” I think of 2021 as a rebound year. As things open up, I expect retail sales to shine. I’m even thinking we’re going to have a killer holiday season. Pent-up demand and all that. People rushing back to stores, socializing, dinner parties, gifts, celebrations. But what are they going to buy? And what will be available for them to buy? The supply chain is still pretty messed up – not like the early days of the pandemic, but not running like a well-oiled machine, either. We kept coming back to the same thing – near sourcing. This is a mantra I have had for years: you cannot source far from the point of demand and keep up effectively. Especially now. The great accelerant has made that really clear. We can’t quite predict it, so it behooves us to hone our reaction time to it.

I know the second day was equally stimulating, much as the Retail Clubhouse conversations have created audio-only conversations that get people’s juices going.

My final takeaway? I really like settings where retailers can sit and talk about the things that plague them, and the opportunities that face them. This industry is dynamic, healthy, and resilient. And honestly, I can’t want to see what happens next.

Thanks, Cathy! For putting on a great event! It was timely and needed!

Newsletter Articles May 13, 2021
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