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 Amazon.com 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.”

Read more

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

%d bloggers like this: