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.
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."