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A Whole New Retail World

This past summer, I went on a dream trip to Italy. Between my iPhone and my digital camera, I took over 800 photographs. 800! A few years past, it would have been hard to think about buying that much film let alone developing that many photos. But with the advent of digital, not only is that volume not a big deal; we edit, delete, and share immediately. A 35mm camera now seems like an antique.

It’s seems so cliché to talk about how fast the world is changing, but things become cliché for a reason – they happen to be true. Not only has the digital economy caused shifts in products being offered, but also how products and services are being consumed. Consumers are adapting quickly to innovations, standing in line for the next version of mobile phones, and foregoing taxis for ride-sharing services that can be summoned with an app. And woe to the retailer that is not keeping up.

This is for Real

Maybe you’ve already heard some of the statistics but they do bear repeating. Over the last 60 years, the average lifespan of a company has dropped from 61 years to 18; and during that time, 90% of the Fortune 500 companies have either shrunk or disappeared altogether. So why have so many business stalwarts gone the way of the dodo bird? According to Greg McStravick, President, Database & Data Management at SAP, they failed to adapt.

As Greg explains, by failing to recognize when their industry was being disrupted by digital innovations, household names such as Blockbuster, got left behind. More and more, retail customers are becoming focused on a personalized – almost bespoke – experience. Anticipating how your customer is going to use your services or buy your goods could be the difference between remaining a household name and becoming a statistic. According to McStravick, one of the keys to anticipating your customer lies in the massive amounts of data that is being generated from disparate digital sources.

As sensors get less and less expensive, the world moves closer to being truly interconnected. Figuring out how to smash data from these different sources and apply logic to it rapidly will differentiate you from the pack. And retailers need to make sure that they do not become complacent and change their business even when they’ve got a really good thing going.

Different Products, Different Ideas

How retailers plan to use this Internet of Things (IoT) is as varied as their products. For example, athletic apparel guru, Under Armour, is venturing into the health information arena by using wearables to collect important health data. Think about that – an apparel company selling data. Like other disruptive companies, such as Uber and Airbnb who do not have a traditional inventory, Under Armour is adding data and a more personalized customer interaction to their offerings. And they are not the only ones.

John Deere, well established for farm equipment, is planning on collecting data on soil to provide vital information to increase yield. So as a farmer is driving his equipment over his field, he may receive notice that his soil needs a certain nutrient for the crop being grown. No extra step of collecting a soil sample and testing it back at the office or sending it to a lab is needed. So a heavy equipment company is adding a data service as well.

Many Channels, One Experience

And the data is also about providing a seamless, omnichannel experience. Michael Romero’s article in Retail Customer Experience calls data the core element, tying the customer’s past behavioral trends with your current products. And customers need their shopping experience to be harmonious across all platforms. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing an item at one price online, only to go to the store and find it at a higher price! Retailers will need to ensure their customers’ satisfaction, not with reactive customer service, but with proactive offerings that are consistent and personalized.

But what are some of the ways retailers can adapt to the changing environment?  Greg McStravick has some ideas. Greg thinks that you will use your mobile phone for more than just making a shopping list either in the notepad or by scanning the bar codes. He envisions adding virtual reality to the shopping experience:

Since shoppers still prefer to come into the store and experience products first hand, having items they selected online ready for them in a dressing room, or suggesting items by detecting their arrival in the store, may be the personalization that leads to a loyal customer. Keeping that amount of data current, usable, and immediate will be the challenge.

The Future

We live in a transformative time and what ideas will bubble to the top and become the next hot thing is a work in progress. A great way to get those creative juices going is to come connect with your peers and see the latest technology at work. The NRF's Big Show is happening January 15-17, 2017 in New York, NY. It’s a great chance to learn, network, explore, and start creating the future of Retail.

As to my future, the next dream trip on the bucket list is Machu Picchu. Let’s see, I know I will need hiking boots, bug spray, and sunscreen. I wonder what cool items my retailers are going to detect I need?

Follow me on Twitter:  Rhoda Springer (@rhodajspringer) | Twitter



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