January is always an interesting month for retailers. First, everyone is exhausted. The holiday season is grueling and January is, for many retailers, the last chance to bridge the gap between expectations and performance. Compounding the exhaustion is the continued pressure to make sure plans are in place to make the most of the coming year. Coming out of 2016, the pressure and exhaustion levels could not be higher, and the questions being asked are pretty intense. Leadership and investors continue to question the validity of physical stores. Everyone wants to know what your “digital strategy” is, what you’re doing to combat Amazon, and how your “omnichannel” initiatives coming along. And, from there, the list continues.
From where I sit, it’s clear we are no longer in a retail evolution, but rather a revolution. Retailers who are not addressing the fundamental shifts in technological enablement and shopper expectations are simply not going to be around in a few years. Department stores are hanging on by a fraying thread, malls are struggling to stay relevant, and big-box stores are in an equally dismal place.
The bad news is Amazon is lightyears ahead of most retailers in this revolution; the good news is the market is large enough to support multiple retail formats – they may just not look like they have in the past. The additional good news is that there is a good road-map, and other consumer verticals have somewhat paved the way.
If you think about the technological innovation that has revolutionized how we consume, create and distribute media, how we receive, measure and experience fitness and fitness instruction, and how we research, book and pay for travel, the variety of digital experiences – to experience something indeed very physical – is endless. As we head into the NRF Big Show, innovation and digital enablement should be on everyone’s mind. I have a few key experiences I am hoping to see and thought I would share them.
The Smart Store
The Internet of Things or IoT is a big deal for retail. The notion that you can connect disparate pieces of information onto one platform and realize big results has great promise, and one that has been crawling towards reality. I believe 2017 will see less crawling and more walking and running.
The Big Show Expo floor will be teeming with micro-applications promising to solve various friction points within your retail experience. The ones I like are those that can easily be integrated to other systems in your software stack. I believe associate productivity should be a key area of focus this year, and investing in any solutions that enable and empower your associates to spend more time servicing shoppers will be money well spent. Some applications I am particularly bullish on are Myagi for associate training, ThinkTime for task management, Inkling for document management and Theatro for in-store communication. Of course, there are various other IoT applications I’m excited about – everything from smart lighting, like GE’s Current, to smart fitting rooms to smarter POS solutions. Many of these applications will be on display in the RetailNext booth (#3353).
The second trend I am looking forward to seeing at NRF is everything and anything related to inventory and inventory movement. From my beginning at RetailNext I have always been excited about the notion of understanding product movement in conjunction with human movement. Amazon Go is the first concept to bring this reality to life, but there are various other projects not far behind. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich will showcase some of this capability in his Monday morning keynote address, and throughout the show you will see applications that have real merit as retailers adjust to the reality of today’s retail revolution. Companies I am particularly bullish on are Oak Labs (being showcased in Avery Dennison’s booth), CloudTags (using NFC but equally exciting as RFID) and, of course, the ever exciting Detego (showcasing their product in Intel’s booth).
I also want to call out a company that uses good old fashioned math to plan stores better. Celect has a secret sauce that allows them to make merchandising and planning allocations down to the store level, based on inputs such as traffic, local ecommerce business and other engagement metrics. It’s not IoT or RFID, but it is a real win for retailers deploying the solution.
Finally, I would be remiss to talk about the retail revolution without including the most important stakeholder – the shopper. RetailNext has continuously pushed the shopper to the forefront of our conversations with its retail clients. The shopper herself is the main driver of today’s retail revolution. She is so far ahead of most retailers in her expectations and desires for physical shopping experiences, and guess what, if she doesn’t get what she wants, she easily shifts to online channels. As you walk the show and talk to companies big and small, ask this simple question, “What does it do for the shopper?” I would argue that the companies who can easily show you the answer to this question will be the ones to stand out when the dust has settled. I would also argue if you aren’t asking this question, you will find holiday 2017 to be every bit as painful as 2016.
Join the #retail, #inspiringretail & #smartstore conversations on Twitter @bridgetjohns & @RetailNext, as well as at www.facebook.com/retailnext.