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

Shoptalk: Flyin or Dyin

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 Shoptalk 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

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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The Store is Dead! Long Live the Store!

Margo Georgiadis, GoogleTHE DISTINCTION between online and off-line retail sales grows blurrier by the minute, as shoppers meld their consideration and purchasing behaviors into an “all-line” shopping continuum that spans brick, web and mobile.

“The war for store traffic will be won or lost on digital,” said Margo Georgiades, President of Americas, Google, who spoke in Tucson, AZ last week at the 19th Global Retailing Conference sponsored by the Terry J. Lundgren Center for retailing at the University of Arizona.

In 2010, U.S. retail stores recorded 39 billion “footsteps” in November-December, she reported. By the same period in 2014 that number had declined to 18 billion. Despite that huge drop-off in store traffic, store revenues grew for the same periods from $641B in 2010 to $737B in 2014.

“Those footsteps didn’t go away,” she said. They just went online.”

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