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Log In / Register | Nov 27, 2014

"I Did Not See That Coming," Be Nimble

On February 27, I had the opportunity to participate in an internet radio show on Voice America with two other strong and successful women, Vicki Cantrell, SVP, Communities and Executive Director, Shop.org, and Lori Mitchell-Keller, head of the Global Retail Industry Business Unit for SAP. We’re three women who don’t agree on everything, but it turned out in this show that we agree on quite a lot when it comes to the future of store-based retail.

The name of the show is “Coffee Break with Game-Changers (with your host Bonnie D. Graham)”. While the show is sponsored by SAP, the company has no influence over the content. In other words, it’s a free-wheeling hour, and Bonnie Graham is quite something as a host. To listen to a replay of the episode, called “Precision Retail: What’ve You Done for Your Customer Lately?” click here.

While it’s true that the term “Precision Retail” can refer to a specific SAP product, the RSR partners and panelists agreed that it’s a bigger term than that. It’s about getting to customer relevancy, and moving away from the “creepy.” (Note to readers: Re-targeting may be successful, but it is REALLY creepy). It’s about creating a good customer experience that presents the products they want to buy in a method that’s appropriate for your trip / visit. In other words, if the customer wants to get in and out of the store quickly, design an experience for them that allows for that. If the customer needs assistance, make sure knowledgeable employees are nearby and available to assist them.

It’s really a fun episode and I recommend you give it a listen, but for me the punch line came at the end. Bonnie mentioned how the “senior seniors” don’t really trust the Internet. “There’s a fear level…how could I give somebody my information online? Who’s on the other end?” And she said “Of course, we are not that, but will that fear ever go away?” On the one hand, we all agreed, that fear will be going away. But I had to add a caveat, “I think there’ll be some new technology that we’ll find to mistrust.”

Bonnie laughed and replied, “I did not see that coming.”

Well, that’s the whole point of this piece. This summer, RSR partner Steve Rowen is attending the Wearable Technology Conference” in New York City. I’ll bet a whole new group of people will be mistrustful of wearable technologies. And how far are we from human implantable technologies? RFID is really just the tip of the iceberg there. Already the form factors of our smartphones border on “too small for big fingers”. Why wouldn’t it be easier to just implant something in our ear or mouth? Need to type? Draw a keyboard. Need to take a phone call? Click your heels three times. This concept (implantable technologies of all sorts) is presented in a book called Diamond Age, which I got through about a third of. It was just too dark for me. I do believe there’s a brighter, non-post-apocalyptic spin on the story anyway.

The point is each of these technologies promises to make life a bit simpler and will likely be monetizable by retailers, but I can feel the reader starting to cringe at the thought of some of them. Still, they will come. And while it’s one thing for a consumer to say “I did not see that coming” it’s quite another for a retailer to say that.

What haven’t we seen coming? Respondents to one of RSR’s survey last year knew that the “next big thing” was something we haven’t seen coming yet. As analysts it’s easy for us to opine on these things, but as retailers, what are we going to do about it? Oddly, it’s the best case ever for a sound and robust technology infrastructure, for building an extensible foundation that allows us to expand into any new technology that comes along. Our stock ledgers will always have to do the grunt work of adding and subtracting sales, receipts and returns. But the variations on the theme are almost endless.

And the best possible outcome would be to say “I did not see that coming, but I can handle it.”

Thanks to everyone who is a part of “Coffee Break with Game Changers.” I had a blast.

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