Retail Tech Innovation or Consumer Change: Which Came First?

retail tech innovation or shopper behavior

THE EXPANSION of omnichannel retailing presents our industry with a chicken-and-egg problem: Does consumer behavior drive changes in retail tech innovation or does retail tech drive changes in consumer behavior?

This is much more than a philosophical musing. It’s a question that matters greatly to retailers. Retailing becomes more intricate over time at a pace that exceeds growth in consumption.

This means the next incremental dollar you add to your top line will be a little bit harder to obtain than the last one. Omnichannel requires retailers to maintain, optimize and adjust to keep pace with shopper expectations and behaviors. Those expectations change fast. They are elevated by shopper experiences and shaped by forces outside the retailer’s control.

I call this the Law of Equivalent Experience: The best service standard experienced anywhere is instantly expected everywhere.

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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, Target.com 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.

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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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Rise of the Retail Robots

rise of the retail robots

FRUSTRATED 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 retail 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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A Little Problem With Big Data

Courtesy RetailWire.comA STIMULATING DISCUSSION in RetailWire.com this morning led me to once again think deeply about how retailers are confronting so-called Big Data and applying it to their businesses.

The question posed was an intriguing one, given the continuing hype and mysticism ascribed to Big Data over the past several years.

What is your take on the advancements (or not) retailers are making in the use of data capture and analysis? Is it all leading to significantly improved customer experiences down the road, or something less?

The responses mostly seemed to accept two tacit assumptions: One, that all store data is Big Data. Two, that the primary goal of Big Data analytics is the creation of targeted promotional offers. I have a little problem with that.

When did retail POS data suddenly become Big Data? We’ve been collecting it (and mostly discarding it) for decades. Now that storage costs have finally declined, we can capture and hold it long enough to run a few queries and design a few models. Shopper in-store data really hasn’t changed much, but our ability to mine its potential has certainly advanced.

Certainly data flows from the POS and frequent shopper programs continue to expand. There are even some new sources, like in-store shopper tracking, entering the mix. Yes there’s lots of data. But is this really Big Data?

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