When NRF, the National Retail Federation, says that their Big Show is the place for anyone in retail, they’re not exaggerating. And when they say BIG, it’s even a bit of an understatement. With the masses of people walking the halls of Javits Center, perhaps “Massive Show” is more appropriate.
Who cares if the warehouse is optimized if, when you enter into a store, it sucks.
For a first-time attendee, it can be easily overwhelming, but for this first-timer, it was exhilarating! Despite the throng of people, it was still easy to pick out the major topics that were in everyone’s mind. The conference was abuzz with three themes that you could overhear in conversations everywhere from the expo hall to the presentation sessions: Agility, Technology, and Customer Engagement/Experience.
As a resident of the tech-centric San Francisco Bay Area, I hear these words all the time, but the exhilarating part of the Big Show was hearing it come from members the retail industry, because One2Team has long been focused on the pairing that is retail & tech. We’ve been part of it for well over a decade in Europe and have seen first-hand the millions it save and the difference it makes to businesses dedicated to better serve their customers. We are well aware of the opportunities that technology transformation can unleash on this industry. To see the conversation come to a fever pitch in the few months after our launch in the U.S. is incredible!
In fact, the panel session on how CIOs are leading organizational transformation, sponsored by PwC and Google for Work, did a great job of packaging, then immediately unpacking, the trinity of agility+technology+customer experience. The panelists discussed how innovation is needed in elevating a customer’s experience to a level they expect and are accustomed to online, how agility is needed to anticipate and shift with market trends, and how technology is the mandatory common factor to achieve any sort of business growth. The struggle for brick-and-mortar against e-commerce is not news, but again, hearing retailers say for themselves how important the trinity is breathes new life into the fight.
In another session on commerce convergence, the panel discussed how much work there is still to do in order to enable technology in our stores in comparison to how much we want it (which is an awful lot). I heard several industry executives admit that the retail industry has still areas that are a decade behind, technology-wise, compared to other industries. That means there is often a gap between what consumers (and retailers) wish they could do and what they can do today! Everything, from digital receipts to staff mobile alerts and employee-assisted mobile selling to endless-aisle selling capabilities were high on technology wish lists. It sounds like a lot to do because it is, but that doesn’t mean it has to be impossibly difficult.
Fail first, fail fast, learn and iterate.
Fitch’s Christian Davies got it right in his breakout session “Agile Retail: Embracing the Pace of Change“. He said shoppers are part of a world that moves at a relentless pace and stores have to accept that they cannot stand still. Stores have to be able to move as fast as consumers do and they cannot afford to NOT experiment with different technologies to find those that work best for them. Technology really IS the key to agility.
If I had my own session, I would have taken things a step further and offered a reminder that technology need not be relegated only to the times when a customer is considering products or is checking out at the register. It should be omnipresent, because the customer’s experience isn’t shaped only by those instances, but also by what they see, hear, or feel.
You can’t save souls in an empty church.
One2Team, for example, offers technology as a tool for agility in making rapid, simultaneous transformations across hundreds of locations… giving a company’s every store a consistent brand identity. It’s a way to use technology to create the optimal look of a store and take advantage of brick-and-mortar’s biggest asset: reality. Colors, textures, visuals, are all real. There is no guessing in a store. It’s all about the “feel”. Creating the right environment and drawing shoppers into a store is the first step in the customer experience cycle. After all, what use is any technology-assisted sale if the shopper isn’t inside the store? As advertising man David Ogilvy once said “You can’t save souls in an empty church.”