The fact that I was overwhelmed by the exhibition of more technology than I could ever learn about in my lifetime at NRF’s Big Show last week did not matter. The one big takeaway, perhaps the biggest for all retailers and brands, is that they should beware of thinking about these technologies as anything more than new “tools.” From one awesome technology to another, it’s easy to believe that if you were to buy all of it, your problems would be solved, the business would magically be transformed and incredible growth and success would follow. In other words, technology becomes your strategy rather than the tactic that it is. For those who become awed into that mindset, or mental trap, they will spend enormous amounts of time and money simply to end in failure.
Technology and the internet are new tools to be used tactically in support of your business strategy. And while the tools are new, “Strategy 101” has not changed since the beginning of commerce. The overriding strategy for all consumer facing businesses is essentially the identification of target consumers, engaging them, assisting them on their journey to discovery, providing a great, personalized experience, offering perfect product value and delivering a frictionless, transparent path to purchase. The elephant in the room, of course, is if you don’t understand these technologies, know which ones to invest in, and are unable to figure out how to integrate them into your business systems to implement your strategy, you will surely fail. Technology, and its game-changing tactical use, has raised the competitive bar, big time. As a result, most retailers suffer palpable anxiety over whether or not they have made the right investment in the right technology, supportive of their strategy, and whether or not it will still be relevant tomorrow.
Having Said That…
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, algorithms, predictive analytics, virtual reality, augmented reality, beacons, apps, interactive touch screen and verbal devices, digital pay, Internet of Things, robotics, and probably many more that I missed … and even more on the way: these are the core technologies that provide profound power for retailers and brands to implement strategy and ultimately delight and win consumers. On the flip side, they are also the tools that profoundly empower consumers to engage the retailers and brands they have permitted into their lives to have a frictionless, highly personalized experience and product offerings, when, where and how they want it.
The Perfect Conclusion
As we observe the almost daily flood of new technologies and applications, it’s important to re-emphasize that all of them have the same objective: upon real time consumer demand or the prediction of it, to instantaneously connect products, experiences, services, entertainment, information media, and communications of all types with each individual consumer, wherever and whenever they demand to be connected. It’s about perfecting personalization and distribution. And just as one new technology leapfrogs its predecessor, so too will the successor be leapfrogged tomorrow. Thus, we will continue to witness a deluge of startling tech innovations at warp speed.
This raw “creative destruction” process will continue on steroids until the perfect connection is achieved: a verbal demand triggers instant or consumer-scheduled distribution of whatever personalized “value” is being demanded.
This process is also why the entrepreneurial startups have an advantage over the giant traditional brands and retailers. They are finding “white space” niches where they can apply the newest technologies on small, flexible and more responsive platforms, with few barriers to entry and low investment. The giants must transform their entire lumbering processes, systems, cultures, organizations, indeed, their entire value chains, to seek the perfection of personalization and distribution, which will be required to simply survive.
And as I’ve stated before, time is not on their side. As these smaller “speedboats” multiply and chip away at the giants’ shares, a tipping point will occur, and it will probably be too late for the giants.
Once again, to the legacy guys I say, ramp it up big time…now!