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Retail’s future is not just about tech

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In his 2007 book, Where’s My Jetpack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived, robotist and author Daniel Wilson took readers on a tour of some of the revolutionary technologies that were supposed to change everything, but didn’t.

Something like that has happened in the retail industry, according to a new report from Deloitte, which noted that pundits extrapolating from technological trends have variously predicted that brick-and-mortar stores would become obsolete, transformed into showrooms or staffed entirely by robots.

The report — “The future is coming … but still one day at a time” — acknowledges that some of those predictions may eventually come true to some extent, but still fail as useful predictions because they don’t give retailers a helpful road map to the future.

Many predictions based on the rise of a specific technology — such as virtual reality, mobile payments or drone delivery — ignore such mundane concerns as the economic realities and regulatory hurdles that could keep such technologies in the same always-future as the jetpacks in Wilson’s book.

Deloitte aims to take a different tack by focusing on industry data, economic trends and consumer insights as it looks at how the industry is changing, and how surprise factors like COVID-19 may act as an accelerant.

Among the key takeaways:

• E-commerce is growing faster. Year-over-year growth was up 68% as of April, accounting for more than 40% of total retail sales. But margins are elusive.

• Convenience is critical. More than half of consumers say they are willing to spend more for it.

• Private label continues to gain. In 2019, 40% of consumers said they were willing to pay as much or more for private label products, and COVID-19 has further boosted that trend.

“Moving forward in the COVID-19 environment, retail and consumer products companies should be vigilant to identify and react to the emerging disruptive forces and trends at play in the industry,” argues Bobby Stephens, principal for retail and consumer products at Deloitte. “As the saying goes, ‘Think globally, act locally.’ This can also be applied to retail, meaning retailers should be dramatically more granular in their understanding and operations. While it may be tempting to prioritize game-changing technologies, the data tells us the consumer economics of convenience and cost are more important than ever.”


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