Brick and mortar isn't dead yet. We are still showing a need for a physical presence, and for showing up where people shop. But some things need to change, and what better time to talk about change than right now, as we start planning for a new year? My goal with this article is to shift the perspective of where retail is headed, and what the possibilities are, if they can learn to merge innovation with what they've got right now. Of course this isn't as easy done as it is said, but who said innovation, relevancy, and sustainability were going to be easy?

Stop Looking to the Past

Plenty of retailers are in survival mode, and rather than seeking innovation, are looking into the past for what worked last week, or last month. As Sterling Hawkins, a multi-generational retail expert, tells it, the problem with this approach is this: if you are only looking to the past for your next strategy, you're only going to get incrementally better, and that is dangerous territory when you are pitted against the likes of Amazon, and facing upward exponential growth patterns.

Forward Thinking Focus

For the future of innovative tech and retail, Hawkins and I agree that we need to see the focus shift into more forward thinking, more alignment, more balance, more connection, and more automation. So we came up with the 10 things retail should be looking at in 2019, when it comes to innovative technology. 

  1. Goodbye omnichannel, hello all our channels. Forget about separation. Start focusing on all the channels of delivery as simply yours, and focus on how you can automate and connect those channels rather than keeping them (or viewing them as) separate.
  2. Stop skimping on strategy. Again with the separation... buyers are number crunchers, merchants are nonexistent, and the communication between what consumers really want to see when they walk into your store, and what happens is so diminished.
  3. Know your consumer. Shopping isn't personalized anymore, and it isn't personal anymore. Everyone is focused on building the next big thing and selling it out to the even bigger thing, and we have lost focus on the why. Human interaction is necessary, knowing your consumer is necessary. What's your personal touch? How are you merging your data and tech with your in-store experience to be more efficient? 
  4. Don't be afraid of advancing the blockchain. Blockchain can reconcile transactions throughout the entirety of the supply chain. Think about the advancements retail can make in food safety alone. Walmart has already implemented this so foodborne illness can easily be identified, tracked, and stopped. We are talking about a difference of 23 hours of notification. This technology will stop purchases at the register within something like 20-seconds, whereas right now this turnaround and alert time is around 24-hours. Don't be afraid to take advantage of new technology to make your offerings and services better for consumers.
  5. Augmented reality + retail can increase experiences. Added value experiences, taking shoppers behaviors and using them to increase their shopping experience with technology, can bring retail to the next level. Sixty-five percent of shoppers expect AR and VR to change how they shop. They are literally telling you what they want in the future. Will you listen? 
  6. AI + retail is also headed for retail. Price optimization is one way we can see big gains in retail with AI. Earth Fare implemented an AI system and saw a three percent increase to their gross sales by understanding what shoppers wanted and when they wanted it. The end goal is obviously a better shopping experience for the consumer, but as Earth Fare saw, applying this technology also allowed more time for managers and employees to innovate and work smarter.
  7. 3D printing is finally showing its capabilities. The biggest application I saw for retail on Main Street was with bakeries, and this is finally coming to fruition. Imagine the process of decorating with a 3d printer. Imagine all of your baked goods typography being programmed into your printer with the press of a few buttons, and your output is perfect, exactly what you requested. The fulfilment is exciting as well, providing an X-factor. Of course bakeries aren't the only application, as we are already seeing pieces of products that are 3d printed and again, the applications seem endless. Adidas is 3d printing their Futurecraft performance soles, and General Electric, Boeing, Ford, Nike, Hasbro, and so many more, are also minimizing waste and increasing efficiency, with 3d technology.
  8. Focus on efficiency. Amazon Dash, while limited, shows us how we can become more efficient through routine and automatic renewals. Programs and offerings like this are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to helping us make less of the decisions that aren't meaningful to us, ie: when it's time to reorder laundry detergent, and focus more energy and effort on the decisions we DO want to make, that are meaningful to us. Retailers should be looking for ways to help consumers become more efficient in their decision making so that consumerism itself can become more enjoyable. This is the space where people will actually buy more, and make more "extra purchases" because their decision making hasn't been tapped out by the routine items they need to purchase every two weeks.
  9. Cryptocurrency will stabilize. I'm curious to see how cryptocurrency will show up in retail in 2019. The infrastructure for cryptocurrency to go primetime is not there yet, digital wallets that make conversions and transactions easy do not exist, and so the application doesn't make sense yet. But that doesn't mean it can't be at some point and I know a lot of startups are getting funded to figure this out, and anytime we follow the money, we usually see traction, eventually.
  10. Computer vision to manage stock. Robotics can help stores be the most efficient, by keeping shelves stocked, items in the appropriate place, clean stores, organizational order, and an overall better shopping experience.

New Year, New Goals

We identified 2018 as the year of visionaries, and it did not disappoint. Look back through this column for proof of vision, inspiration, and at least a handful of startups setting out to change the world as we know it. But what will 2019 be? Will it be the year of fruition? Will we see these visions, built with the blood, sweat, and tears of those visionaries, go mainstream? A word of caution though, all these innovations can advance retail, but if gender and cultural diversity is lacking throughout retail leadership, the data and resulting decisions will be inherently and unconsciously biased. 

Published on: Nov 29, 2018