Millennials: The Next ‘Pig in the Python’


FOR GRAYING BABY BOOMERS like me, the awesome power of demographics has in many ways defined our lives. There are a lot of us. We clogged our kindergartens, our universities, our workplaces, our media, our politics and our communities with sheer numerical might; and the retail marketing universe seemed to revolve around our needs and our sense of entitlement.

In his 1980 book, Great Expectations, author Langdon Y. Jones called this phenomenon “a pig in a python” – a rather visceral visualization of how the boomers’ demographic bulge has traveled through America’s culture, distorting as it goes.

Along the way we also had a lot of kids. So many, in fact that we engendered an echo boom that is numerically larger than our own. In case you haven’t noticed, those 75 million “millennials,” as the demographers like to call them, now largely dominate cultural, political and marketing discourse. Not to mention our consumer economy – the 18-34 cohort wields $2 trillion in purchasing power.

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At Shoptalk: Fulfillment’s Faster, Freer Finale


IN THE FRICTION-FREE WORLD of online retailing, getting the order is easy. Delivering on the promise is hard.

At the Las Vegas Shoptalk conference last week retail thought-leaders shared insights about the fulfillment challenge. Their consensus: it’s not going to get any easier.

“My bet on shipping is faster and freer,” said Jason Goldberger, president, and Mobile Target, in a panel on The Changing Role of Stores in Ecommerce Fulfillment.

“It used to be that our guests just wanted free shipping,” he added. Now they demand overnight delivery and same-day store pickup.


Michael Tobin, SVP Strategy & Innovation at Macy’s, explained that successful and cost-effective fulfillment now requires a sophisticated algorithm that considers multiple factors, including the ship-to address, units on hand, units to ship, location capacity, combinability of items in an order, and more. “We’re on the 3rd or fourth version of that algorithm,” he said.

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Flying or Dying: Whose View of Stores Rings True for The Future?


FOR THE 3,100 retail, tech and finance movers and shakers who gathered here in Las Vegas at the inaugural Shoptalk conference this week, an existential question still remains unresolved: Are stores poised to soar in the digital stratosphere or are they circling the digital drain?

“Stores are incredibly challenged,” said Ron Johnson, CEO of Enjoy, the online services startup he founded this year following his stunning success with the Apple Stores and his shocking disappointment at JCPenney.

“Over the past 20 years stores have been in a relative decline” he added, referencing the faster growth posted by and other pure-plays and the recent reports of soft quarterly earnings and closings from brick & mortar giants like Kohl’s and Macy’s.

But Jerry Storch, CEO of Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Company, which operates Saks 5th Avenue, Lord & Taylor, the Gilt online boutique site, and Germany’s Galeria Kaufof as well as its eponymous stores north of the border, would beg to differ.

“That narrative is all wrong,” he told a packed audience. “90.2% of sales are still in stores. Amazon still only controls 1.5% of U.S. retail sales.”

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Rise of the Retail Robots

Robo-ClerkFRUSTRATED WITH STORE EMPLOYEES? Maybe a mechanical clerk is the answer.

The retail industry today is making some fascinating, promising, and perhaps troubling moves toward the routine use of autonomous robots in human environments. The efforts seem energized by technical advances, affordability gains, and increasing wages for their human counterparts.

“Everybody is beginning to talk about robotics as a way to remove labor from the system,” said David Marcotte, a senior vice president with consulting firm Kantar Retail, a friend of this blog, in an interview in the Star Tribune newspaper.

As a confirmed sci-fi geek (occasionally prone to paranoid fantasy), I’m both fascinated and a bit leery about this development. There’s little doubt, however, that the robots are coming to retail from numerous directions.

Tenser’s Three Laws of Retail Robotics:

1 – A retail robot may not harm, mislead or impede a shopper, or, through inaction, allow a shopper to fail to complete a sale or have an otherwise poor experience.

2 – A retail robot must faithfully implement the merchandising plans given it by retailers except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3 – A retail robot must encourage and protect the sale, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

(Adapted with great reverence from i Robot, by Isaac Asimov.)

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