Whether you’re a retailer or not, the idea of “winding down the year” is really never a tranquil affair. With the hustle and bustle (or chaos, if you prefer), but also festive nature, that goes along with our 4-5 week frenzy of shopping, errands, visitors, travel, family gatherings, and other holiday events, there’s always the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, which speaks to the slower, calmer days of early winter.
While most people enjoy the holiday season—despite the mayhem—it also signifies the promise of those more tranquil January days when we can breathe a collective sigh of relief and begin really planning the new year—hopefully with the satisfaction that all our efforts of the past year have been well spent.
And as we look forward to January, many of us in the retail industry also have a keen eye on NRF’s Big Show. As in years’ past, we will get the chance to reconnect with industry colleagues, discuss ongoing and new initiatives, and see the latest developments and enhancements that are in store for retail. But let’s take a look back at what we saw at this past year’s Big Show and explore what has transpired. In our 2018 NRF recap blog, we noted the continued focus on cloud and mobile solutions, as well as more attention on unstructured data and analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), virtual reality (VR), and the overall consolidation in the solution vendor landscape.
We had said the bulk of the innovation and investment for the foreseeable future would be on cloud-based solutions. These have indeed continued to mature, with more retailers becoming increasingly comfortable with adopting a cloud environment—moving away from inflexible on-premise legacy solutions. We’ve seen significant activity as retailers start to think about re-platforming their legacy solutions in order to better support new capabilities in unified commerce.
Along with cloud, mobile solutions have continued their journey into a standard retail toolset. From a customer perspective, optimizing the mobile experience is an expectation of interacting with the brand. From a store associate perspective, providing tools to make them more productive and engaged with their employer’s brand translates to employees who overall feel more valued because they have the sense that they are contributing to the company’s success—and in turn are much more loyal and satisfied with their job. The short story: happy employees create positive customer experiences (and yes, the inverse is even more true).
With respect to harnessing unstructured data (i.e., from non-traditional sources such as social media posts and beacons), coupled with machine learning, much of this still needs quite a bit of work before it’s anything close to mainstream in retail. However, machine-learning technologies are not stand-alone, rather, they are being combined with AI and other related technologies to create solutions that are designed to solve a myriad of retail challenges. Advanced demand forecasting and related solutions around both price/promotion optimization and fulfillment planning are just a few leading examples.
Keep in mind, retailers are typically slow to move on innovations—many are still only tepidly beginning their migration to cloud environments. However, we are seeing a handful of success stories with these more advanced technologies, such as Amazon Go, Target, CVS, Nordstrom, and Walmart. Read more about this here: https://www.iotforall.com/retail-analytics-omni-channel-success/
So, over this past year, we’ve seen more cloud adoption across the entire retail business and enhanced mobile capabilities. The inherent integration that cloud environments afford should certainly help with retailers implementing or enhancing their buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS or click-and-collect) fulfillment models and ideally improve inventory accuracy, transparency, and overall customer satisfaction. However, some of the ‘shiny objects’ touted early in 2018 remain mostly untapped.
Getting back to the end of year theme, for those of us in retail the season is nearly complete. All that’s really left is to review the numbers, find the winners and scrutinize what didn’t work, and begin cleaning up the assortments and inventories.
Coupled with comprehending ‘lessons learned’ from the past year, planning for what’s next is critically important. So, while we will wait until after the NRF Big Show to recap what the Parker Avery team saw and learned in NYC, looking ahead into 2019 here are a few early perspectives to tuck away for your pre-NRF planning:
The winning retailers the last 2-3 years are executing well but are also challenging everything about their business. It starts with strategy – thinking big, being bold, and relentlessly focusing on the consumer experience. Do that well, and all else will follow. Staying tactical, waiting to follow, and not providing leadership to your teams will result in incremental changes at best.
New tools and technologies, the shiny objects, do not typically work well on top of old and decaying foundations—this lack of integration, speed, flexibility, and scalability is a key driver for new cloud solutions, especially in core capability areas.
Putting it all together requires a plan and commitment. Many retailers go to NRF talking about what’s needed for the coming year. But you must think longer term: skate to where the puck will be. If you’re not already talking about 2020 or later, you’re late.
Many retail teams today are shell-shocked from the turbulence of the last few years. If you’re planning a transformational initiative, keep in mind the critical aspects of change leadership and culture that will drive or inhibit success. Most teams will continue to strive for success and support improvement, but they need to intimately understand “what” and “why” before getting to “how.”
We are looking forward to seeing many of our friends and colleagues in January. Certainly, please let us know if you’d like to find a few minutes with our team while there. Until then, on behalf of The Parker Avery Group and myself, have a wonderful holiday.