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Back to the Future: A Century of Retail and What It Can Tell Us

2 years ago
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Throughout history, every generation seems to think their current technology is the ultimate solution.  When prehistoric people discovered that flint could start a fire, they probably thought it couldn’t get much better than that! And yet, technology just keeps on astounding and transforming us at ever faster speeds. 
Retail is one industry that is constantly shifting, and each generation has left some vendors in the dust because they got very comfortable with the status quo. Consider the way that your grandfather shopped, compared to how your mom shopped, now contrast that with the way you shop today. Your grandfather could never have imagined your current reality – and we probably can’t predict how our grandchildren will shop in the future. What we do know is this: that disruption is inevitable.
Centuries ago, people bought their wares from little push carts in the village; eventually town-councils pushed these vagabond vendors off the streets and into little shop fronts. Niche shops reigned for generations, but in time the “general store” came to dominate the land by popping up in every small town across the country.  General stores were so integral to small town life that no one ever imagined this business model could be usurped.
The Sears Roebuck catalogue changed all this at the turn-of-the-century by completely revolutionizing the way people purchased goods. The catalogue won because it offered the customer what she was missing: convenience, astounding variety and competitive pricing.
Today, e-commerce is king and Amazon seems like an unstoppable Goliathe, but let us ask ourselves, “what is the client missing”?  Amazon has become a bloated catalogue with no personal touch, so it’s no surprise that consumers are now coming full circle and being enticed back into shops.
Online players such as, AmazonGo, TaoCafe (Alibaba) and Goop are reinventing brick and mortar with interactive elements, social events, cashless check outs, AI, mobile point-of-sale, kiosks, digital store associates, smart cameras, RFID (radio frequency identification), electronic shelf edge, language translation, predictive analytics and much more.
These pioneers are delivering a unique shopping experience, but it’s still in its early days, so it will be fascinating to watch how society embraces these experiments. Big data will determine how future versions of these cashless shops evolve. Once we can analyze a customer’s every move, every pause, and even predict their buying patterns, this will reinvent the way we stock product, schedule staff, and interact with customers.
Of course, the amount of data being generated by these smart stores is too large for humans to digest – so software systems that can crunch your numbers is critical. Big data is gold, but unless you can mine it – it’s useless to you.
Retail may be changing, but it’s always going to be about the right combination of products, pricing, service and location. Let’s make sure that your technology can help you harness your gold mine.