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.)

Read more

The End of Loyalty

Tom Fishburne cartoonIF IT EVER WAS, it’s fading fast. I’m talking about shopper loyalty and the card-based frequent shopper programs that try to pass as loyalty builders.

I’ve long been a skeptic about the premise of customer loyalty. Card based programs are more about behavioral modification, segmentation and targeting. In many instances — airlines come to mind — the net result is the cultivation of dis-loyalty and skepticism, as a consequence of added complexity, suffocating rules, suspect prices and incentives that many users can never achieve.

Now comes news that the Kroger supermarket chain has begun converting its frequent shopper card holders to a smartphone app. This is news with big numbers behind it, as 96% of Kroger shoppers presently possess a card. Its personalized marketing subsidiary, dunnhumby, is surely driving this action.

This morning, the good folks at RetailWire.com asked its distinguished BrainTrust panelists: “Will Kroger’s App Replace its Loyalty Card?”  Here’s what I had to say about it:

Welcome to the post-loyalty era.

Card programs are not quite obsolete, but they are about to be absorbed by mobile apps. While a front-runner such as Kroger/dunnhumby may be able to convert many shoppers to its proprietary app for a while, the lasting future will be defined by electronic wallet solutions that aggregate frequent shopper plans, coupons and payments on the shopper’s terms. NFC communication with the POS will likely be a key enabling technology.

An observation: The pure value of of frequent shopper data is approaching its zenith. It now diminishes slightly in relative significance as the volume of social media interaction grows. This is the mind-bending next stage in behavioral-based marketing: Things people do, say and experience outside the store may soon eclipse what happens within the four walls.

For retailers that have steadfastly bucked the loyalty-card trend (like Walmart), this may be a moment of affirmation. Or maybe they just got lucky.

© Copyright 2013 James Tenser

At eTail West: Pricing Transparency in an Omni-Channel World

I HAD THE PRIVILEGE on Feb. 27 of moderating an expert panel at the eTail West conference in Palm Springs, CA. I was accompanied by two of the industry’s bright lights: Wes Woolbright, National Pricing Director of Safeway, and Carol Spieckerman, President and CEO of newmarketbuilders.

The focus of the discussion was a presentation of a research study conducted by RetailWire.com late last year on the timely subject of Pricing Transparency. Some 284 retail and supplier executives participated. IBM was the sponsor.

The findings addressed the pervasive concerns about “showrooming,” a behavior in which shoppers examine products in a physical retail store but then seek out the lowest online price using their smartphones. They also looked at the more general issues surrounding pricing consistency for retailers who do business across multiple channels and/or geographic markets.

Panelists Wes and Carol both did a superb job, drawing from their years of professional experience to add perspective and insight to the discussion. The video runs 28 minutes, but I think it’s worth the time.

The event organizers, Worldwide Business Research, recorded and posted the YouTube presentation shown here and they have made a transcript download available.

You may also download the cited research study here.

© Copyright 2013 James Tenser

Movin’ On Up

TENSER’S TIRADES HAS RELOCATED to this much finer neighborhood following a dispute with the old landlord.

You’ll find the entire blog (past and present) here, along with some useful new features.

If you subscribe to our RSS feed, you can update it using the link you will find at right.

Jamie Tenser

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser
%d bloggers like this: