Features, The New Rules of Retail

Winds of Change

Okay, okay, we know everyone, including us, has proselytized about the problems retailers face today. The inconvenient disharmonic convergence of factors including changes in consumer attitudes, tech, resource constraints, big data, economics, shifting demographics and politics has skewered the industry into a state of paralytic disruption. There is no shortage of consultants rushing to the rescue and an equal number of startups with solutions to problems retailers didn’t even know they had.

But here’s some original thinking dedicated to the future of retail: (R)Tech is a new term coined to describe the “confluence of retail and technology.” And according to the (R)Tech mantra, “An (R)Tech company embodies the strongest values of both industries – global and local, nimble and entrepreneurial – to delight profoundly empowered consumers. The term is meant to accelerate retail innovation and to invigorate retail’s reputation with innovators, the next generation of retail talent, policymakers, and the public.” Wow! Modern young knights with a new worldview to the rescue of an industry in distress.

(R)Tech Center of Innovation is a collaboration between Accenture and the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Their vision is to nudge along an evolution of the industry with a well thought-out blueprint for change. Optimists, they take a holistic view of all the factors contributing the retail’s current situation, and address four key areas that require transformation to thrive in a tech-dominated world:

  • Building the systems for transformative change
  • Training the next generation of retail talent
  • Fostering new ideas and partnerships
  • Establishing rapid and continuous prototyping

The research-based (R)Tech Center of Innovation is focused on five strategies to lead change including connecting retailers to innovative technologies, helping the industry create cultures of innovation, assisting retailers move emerging technologies and embedding them in the broader business, conducting research to benchmark innovation and advocating for retail in today’s innovation hubs. How are they going to do this? Through a series of councils and networks, their goal is to get a meaningful conversation going with relevant leaders, both tech and retail, investors, innovators and incubators. Using these collaborations they hope to propel retail in the (R)Tech Age that is customer-centric, customized, with a connected economy, a store experience, a customer experience, operating with alternative business models.

The Center (rtech.org) provides plenty of accessible research details that are worth reviewing, all of which provide a ballast to their manifesto for their vision of a sustainable future. It describes a healthy innovative ecosystem in which ideally everyone does what they are supposed to do.

Okay, okay. We’ve never been Pollyannas, rather a critical voice for lucid change. But change is the elephant in the room. Inertia and entropy are hallmarks of unmanageable outdated systems and business cultures. And even with the current sense of urgency (panic?) that is surging through retail, innovation and change involve hard work. (R)Tech says, “By definition, to innovate is to change. However, change is one of the greatest obstacles for retailers to overcome. A significant part of that challenge is the same in any large organization: the ability to build change management systems that enable the organization’s future success while managing today’s business with its legacy systems.”

We recommend you take the time to read this blueprint for change (LINK>>) at the very least to speed up to the language and sensibility of this new retail tech world.

How is this going to work? The Center “wants all innovators – those already working in retail and those who are new to it, those across the U.S. and those abroad – to know that retail is a powerful and dynamic industry, where all the best innovations are welcome. In the next several years, the Center will partner with universities to engage students brimming with the latest ideas. It will partner with incubators and accelerators to boost entrepreneurs’ time-to-market. It will partner with policymakers, in DC and in statehouses across the country, to pave the way for retail’s new path driving the 21st Century economy.”

But here’s the rub. Process is fine, research takes time, but honestly we’re running out of time. Anil Aggarwal, CEO of Shoptalk, has a slightly different take on change. He believes that 99% of retail leaders are stuck in the pre-tech retail era. The retail industry is four years behind fintech and how it has revolutionized payments and transactions. To accelerate change, retail needs to leapfrog over outdated models and take a giant step forward through a change in mindset supported by teams of retail tech experts. Many will fail, but nimble retail models will rise out of the ashes of 19th century mindsets. Both (R)Tech and Shoptalk are on the right path. They are getting people to talk. They are motivating collaborations and partnerships. And that is the first step in change management.

We just say, hurry up; the tsunami is coming.

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