Digital advancements have drastically changed most industries but there is no doubt that Retail has been affected the most. Monster companies such as Amazon have taken the retail game to a different level to the point of causing companies such as Toys-R-Us to go into bankruptcy (mostly due to inaction than action). The entire spectrum from small to large businesses are scratching their heads and asking questions such as: Is it worth to create my own ecommerce? Should I sell in amazon? How can I compete with Amazon? As humans we will never stop being consumers but how we prefer to consume is still a big debate across the retail industry. Do people like to only shop online? Do they still like the experience of onsite retail? This is why the question is not To Retail or not to Retail, but more like it’s to Digital Retail or Onsite Retail and here is my take:
Last month I had the chance to attend Collision conference in New Orleans and attended an interesting presentation from WalMart’s CTO, Jeremy King. As I do with every tech conference, I went with an open mind looking for new trends, ideas, and inspirations. Jeremy (yes we are pals) emphasized on the concept of how people are starting to prefer again the onsite shopping experience, being able to go a certain place to purchase something, to get out of their house. At the same time, he was introducing WalMart’s two new toys: A giant grocery vending machine that allows people to purchase online and pick them up onsite and a tower vending machine that allows the very same concept but inside WalMart’s retail stores. Both announcements reinforced by the concept that people still like to go onsite to do shopping and, in fact, there is a shift back to onsite retailing. At the time, despite liking the innovation, I couldn’t stop thinking and trying to put all of this together: Is it true that people are starting to shift back to onsite retail? Why would Wal-Mart emphasize on this concept yet all you are doing onsite is picking up what you bought online? Wait…why would Wal-Mart, the king of onsite retail, try to compete with the king of online retail amazon? It’s all starting to make sense now… in every innovation, or lets say most, there is always an agenda and I think that’s what Wal-Mart is trying to do: shift competing away from digital and take it to their core arena. But this brings even more questions: Is there a true shift? Is there a middle point? Is it possible that the most social creatures in the world are suddenly willing to give up the sociability of seeing people, interacting with physical things for the comfort and easiness that digital brings?
I meet with multiple retail vendors and ecommerce start-ups every other week and all I can think of is how retail is shifting more and more into a digital experience. Samsung is coming out with Monitors-like-mirrors that will allow users to try clothing and change its colors from the comfort of their bedroom, multiple AR startups are starting to allow users to buy a refrigerator without worrying about measurement…from the comfort of their kitchen. Now, just like purely retail players will not succeed without digital, purely digital ones can’t sleep in the comfort of their laurels: If you are an ecommerce site, just digital without an off-the-platform component such as AR, VR and IOT might not be enough to gain competitive advantage in the near future. The more I think, talk, write and meet, the more I come to the realization that the so shift that is preaching seems unnatural and forced against a future that is telling us only one thing: Yes, retail will be a digital experience but… also an onsite experience…without having to visit the store! What is your take?