One topic that was hot in 2010 that has not made it to 2020: AR glasses.
When you’ve been writing about retail technology for over fifteen years, there comes a point where that activity spans an entire decade all on its own. The 2010’s was that decade for me. This month: a review of each year of writing (sometimes upwards of 40 articles in a year – where did I have such time?), to identify things said in the heat of the moment that, in retrospect have transcended time and place.
2010 was a year with a lot of focus on fully recovering from the Great Recession, understanding the impact of omnichannel and mobile, and grappling with how to inject social media into retailers’ customer engagement strategies. I wrote about Shopkick and Foursquare (groan), and even Google Glass (double groan). But I also wrote these gems, which I could easily reuse today without changing a single thing (along with a few clarifying thoughts from today).
The lesson from this exercise? The more things change, the more they stay the same. By the way, these are in chronological order as I wrote them:
The retailers that exceed consumer expectations and truly strive to make their customers’ lives better, easier, simpler, or even just filled with slightly more free time than before, will be the retail winners of 2010.
I guess technically I would need to change “2010” to “2020”.
The right context for mobile is not ‘Buy!’ – it’s ‘Let me help you shop.’ What’s the difference? Targeting ways to help consumers long before they get to the buy part of the interaction gives you insight into what they’re thinking about.
If you want to market to my friends, then make it easy for me to be your advertiser – and reward me for it. I don’t care if it’s loyalty points, discounts, or simply prestige. But talk to me directly, let me know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it, and give me – and my friends – the opportunity to say no. We might surprise you with how often we say yes, and the value of our overt endorsement is a lot greater than a behind-the-scenes sneak.
This is still so painfully true, and completely misunderstood (or mistrusted) by most retailers. I’m still waiting for a retailer desperate enough – or an upstart radical enough – to take on this idea.
The next evolution of cross-channel inventory management will clearly have to be assigning different risk mitigation strategies to different types of inventory. But if retailers are truly going to use cross-channel capabilities to optimize inventory, then they are going to have to have a much better understanding of the full cost attached to each and every item – and that cost will vary significantly depending on the channel where it resides and the location of the customer who wants to buy it.
Ah, I was so naïve in 2010. If you can accuse me of anything when it comes to predictions, it is that I am relentlessly optimistic that things are going to happen much more quickly than they actually do. In this case, not even ten years has been long enough to get retailers to think strategically about how to manage inventory in an omnichannel world.
When a consumer walks into a store today, the store employee is no longer the repository for customer expertise. In fact, they are now at a disadvantage, typically armed with less technology and access to information than consumers, and completely unaware of where the consumer is in her shopping process already.
The assumption has long been that the store experience is better than the online experience. I don’t think you can make that assumption any longer. The web has better information, much more information, greater odds of hitting a consistent (and higher) level of service, and depending on the time of year, it may actually look better and be easier to shop than your store. It’s dangerous to romanticize the store experience because it takes so much more and so much longer to fix a store experience than it does to fix an online experience. If you’re not thinking about how online assets can improve the store experience now, then you’re going to be behind the curve. Way behind.
To be fair, I think retailers have been thinking about how to use digital more in the in-store experience. They have just found it incredibly difficult to execute on any of their ideas.
Consumers rapidly can get ratings and reviews for almost any product anywhere, even increasingly for low consideration items like packaged goods. So a retailer (or manufacturer, for that matter) that offers reviews is quickly getting into a world where that’s a base expectation for doing business. What will be more important is what you do with that review information – how easily packaged, how easily analyzed. How easy is it for a customer to find reviews by “people like me”? Product comparisons, product origins, behind-the-scenes access to product creation or design iterations – these will all be ways to differentiate the information that consumers have access to, as part of the decision they will have to make on where to get that information.
Have you ever been in an airport early in the morning, to find a coffee stand that is staffed by one poor employee, who is hounded by mobs of angry people who just want to buy coffee before getting on a plane? In this case, sales have been ‘okay’ at the stand in the morning hour, but not because of demand – it’s because the employee simply can’t serve any more customers! How much greater would sales be during that morning rush if there were 2 employees? Or 3? That retailer may never know. Sales are capped unnecessarily low because of…only looking at payroll budget in terms of percent of sales.
A picture of my airport experience in 2019…
Denver International Airport LaVazza shop in Terminal A at 6:00am on any given day.
If I could design a perfect offer system from scratch, I would have a virtual offer book. As a consumer, I would be able to mark offers I’ve received from retailers and/or brands to save to my book. I would have one barcode that I could use, that would automatically apply and mark as used all the offers that apply to a purchase. It would automatically delete obsolete or expired offers. It would alert me when new offers became available for brands or categories of products that I’ve opted in to be notified about. And I could use it at any store – so manufacturers could get in on sending me offers, just as much as retailers (though obviously the retailer ones would only be good at that retailer’s stores – ah, but then you could get into competitive price matching, where one retailer accepts another retailer’s offers…).
I suppose some enterprising garage band of developers could make this happen, what with the digitization of many offers and wallets today, but I can’t think of a single retailer that would voluntarily sign up to participate in a scheme like this. But a girl can still dream…
However, I will note: take out the cross-retailer part of this dream, and it sounds a heck of a lot like Target Circle. Hmm.
So – imagine a world where you, noble consumer, walk into a store, named for simplicity’s sake “Innovative Hypermarket.” You walk up to a wall of jeans, punch in the size you’re looking for at an accompanying kiosk, and have all the jeans that match your criteria light up for you to find.
Oh, I am still SO waiting for this. In the last decade I have seen multiple runs made at executing on this and none of them have done the one thing that consumers actually need: an easy way to find their size out of a pile of pants that are otherwise indistinguishable from each other.
A girl can still dream.