Retail: Standing at Technology's Crossroad


We've seen over the years that new technologies and concepts are adopted by different industries at different rates. It makes sense. One side benefit for the laggards is that everyone can learn from the pioneering work done by other sectors.

Remember, change is good; you change first.

One of the industries where change is rampant is retail. The nice part for those of us who aren't in retail is that we get a public view of how the changes are implemented every time we shop online, visit a mall, or look for something different for dinner at the supermarket.

What retail is dealing with is a dramatic shift in how customers shop and buy, and how product inventory is managed. Of course, analytics is at the core of how retailers wrestle with the changes.


Technology Takes the Lead
In January, I spent some time at the National Retail Federation's Big Show in New York. I figured I would have to navigate through displays of shelving, mannequins, and point of sale registers to find corner booths with the analytics technologies. I was so very wrong. The only mannequins were displaying clothes custom designed using analytics. About the only shelves I saw were holding bakers racks full of servers. And, POS terminals were there pretty much to demonstrate what data collection can do for a retailer.

In following up with experts in the retail sector, I came away with the feeling that the transformation retail is going through today will soon encompass personal and business services, distribution, manufacturing, media, and other sectors.

It's a customer-driven world.

Brian Kilcourse, managing partner with retail industry consultancy RSR Research LLC, tracks the real shift in the retail market to 2010 when adoption of Internet-enabled, smart mobile devices just exploded. He compared that to how bar code scanning drove massive change 30 years ago by optimizing the supply chain.

Brian Kilcourse, RSR Research
Brian Kilcourse, RSR Research

When we chatted recently, he said of the smart device, "For the very first time the customer carries the store around with them wherever they go. So, all of the things that used to be assumed to happen inside the four walls of the store now happened in the digital space." Kilcourse breaks down the buying process into four key steps: We investigate possible solutions, we pick the desired solution, we pay for it, we take possession of it.

I almost said those were four steps in the "sales process". However, I think we may have to limit use of the word "sales" if the customer really is taking charge.

Kilcourse is pretty clear in his belief that the brick and mortar store isn't going away. In fact, most sales/buys still take place in the physical store. "What has changed is that it has gone from being the beginning and end of the process to being the end. People like to shop. People like to go to stores. It's a social activity," he said. Those things that you don't buy in a store tend to be those products that display and get delivered as easily in the digital world as in the physical world, like books and music.

What has changed is the amount of shopping research customers do in the digital world, looking at everything from retailer websites to Pinterest, Facebook, and Amazon reviews.

Alan Lipson, Global Retail Industry Strategist for SAS (sponsor of this site), noted that retail is one of those industries that has tons of data, thanks in large part to bar codes that have allowed tracking of everything purchased since the 1980s. "Retailers know what was purchased, when it was purchased, and how much someone paid for it. With the advent of online, there is much more data. The trick is taking that data and turning it into information that retailers can use. That's where newer technologies come into play."

James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

MIT's McAfee: Smart Machines Pick up the Pace

MIT's Andrew McAfee looks at all those things we said computers could never do, but they did. And, he warns of the HiPPO.

MIT's Andrew McAfee Chronicles the Incredible Rate of Change

Author, MIT researcher, and Interop ITX keynoter Andrew McAfee is set to explore the ways technology is changing the way companies do business, and how more changes will happen at supersonic speed.


Re: Triumph of the teeny-weeny
  • 4/27/2015 10:38:04 PM
NO RATINGS

And some form of brain disease from all that EM radiation. I know I risk sounding like someone who connects vaccines with autism or something, but cellphones so close to our brains cannot be a good thing. Even my electrical engineering brother has his doubts about the safety... 

Re: Triumph of the teeny-weeny
  • 4/26/2015 10:39:47 AM
NO RATINGS

Besides the carpal tunnel issue associated with typing on phones, watch for more elbow issues, considering how much time some people have their elbows bent holding the phone to their ear while they yack away.

Re: Triumph of the teeny-weeny
  • 4/25/2015 10:16:40 PM
NO RATINGS

Lyndon, is there scientific proof that all our eyesight has been "aged" by 40 or so years? Or are you being fecetitious? I'd posit that the bigger problem is the carpal tunnel we all will have in 5-10 years, as well as higher blood pressure for us all. As soon as the damn autocorrect starts messing with my emails, I can feel my face go flush with blood and my toes clench!

Re: promotion linkage
  • 4/25/2015 2:10:16 PM
NO RATINGS

Vastly different marketing schemes that may also prove to be overwhelming. Maybe that's just my fear as we move toward all mobile everything.

Re: Triumph of the teeny-weeny
  • 4/22/2015 9:11:52 AM
NO RATINGS

@Lyndon. True, the phone manufacturers could have done a better job (or at least earlier) to make their screens more readable, and they have come a long way in the past couple of years. However, adaptive and responsive design for web sites goes beyond type faces and sizes. They mean rethinking how you organize a site. Consider the classic homepage of five years ago. Design teams (including sales, events and editorial) crammed every possible thing into the homepage and really crammed to get more items "above the fold" so they were viewable without scrolling. That was even after site managers recognized that viewers didn't use the homepage the way they did old newspapers. People were increasingly likely to access site content not by typing in the homepage url but through search, newsletters, social media, etc.

The new approaches to site design (there are differences between adaptive and responsive but both require rethinking) allow readers/viewers to work their way through content in smaller doses, with an emphasis on what the individual site visitor is likely to want to see. In that way, you minimize the required amount of scrolling up and down and side to side to see what you need.

Apply this logic to a web-based application. When you, as an employee, log in -- whether on a desktop or mobile device -- your login tells the system what your role is (employee or manager, for example). If you aren't a manager, the system only presents the options that you would need as an employee, such as requesting a day off or filing an overtime report. If you are a manager, what you see are your own options as an employee yourself. However, you also would see that you have requests from your direct reports that need approval/review. Each of your roles would take you into different workflows. In that way you see only the tasks/options that you need to see, not options that don't even apply to your job type or your department.

 

Triumph of the teeny-weeny
  • 4/21/2015 11:35:07 PM
NO RATINGS

..

While I see the usefulness of overhauling one's website (if you can afford it) to make it more mobile-friendly, I also wonder why the onus has been placed on all the gazillions of website owners and not on the relative handful of device manufacturers to somehow make their displays more readable.

In any case, the latest developments from Google (to in effect mandate mobile-friendliness, aka making web data more visible on a tiny screen) suggest to me a kind of dual irony. First, the entire population of smartphone users have been facing the same kind of readability difficulties that seniors (aka old folks) have always faced. In other words, smartphones have brought on the kind of eyesight/readability problems faced by older people, so in effect everybody's eyesight has gotten aged about 40-50 years or so by dint of the popularity of smartphones.

The second ironic element is that this Triumph of the Teeny-Weeny comes after years of a marketing orgy to equip us all with nice wide screens and ultra-wide screens on our desktop PCs and laptops. And humongous wall-sized TV monitors, aiming in effect to turn our living rooms into home movie theatres. So we've gone from efforts to sell us larger and larger screens, now to efforts to acclimate us to teenier and tinier screens. And now we have Google's edict that if your website doesn't cater to the teeny-weeny, it will be banished to oblivion when anybody searches for something relevant to it.

Fascinating...

 

Re: promotion linkage
  • 4/21/2015 11:11:33 AM
NO RATINGS

@kq4ym. As all types of businesses turn more of their focus to connecting to customers through smart phones, and customers take charge (at least to some degree) it will be interesting to see how the data plays out in terms of what business strategies work. I wonder how the balance will fall when it comes to customers wanting to "pull" content as they need it versus businesses "pushing" content out to customers when the business thinks the customer might like it.

 

Re: promotion linkage
  • 4/21/2015 10:05:44 AM
NO RATINGS

And with mobile taking the lead (and Google this week announcing it's revising it's search reaults to favor mobile) the possibility of marketing by phones to "live" customers is going to be a vastly different atmosphere than shoppers have ever seen before. 

Re: promotion linkage
  • 4/18/2015 1:27:02 PM
NO RATINGS

I don't know about you but it's kinda fun for me to step back from shopping to take in all the tactics being used to steer me toward specific products. Knowing the angle doesn't always keep the impulse buy from taking a few extra bucks each trip.

Re: promotion linkage
  • 4/15/2015 5:53:36 PM
NO RATINGS

How true about retail changing rapidly, "we get a public view of how the changes are implemented every time we shop." Now, it's going to be very important to make customer choice easier and easier and the choices consumers have attractive enough to get them to pull out that electronic wallet and pay and not go on to another store, digitally or physically.

Page 1 / 4   >   >>
INFORMATION RESOURCES
ANALYTICS IN ACTION
CARTERTOONS
VIEW ALL +
QUICK POLL
VIEW ALL +