Entrepreneurship, Technology

Retail’s Future

Danbury_Fair_interiorI don’t normally shop around since I am the kind of person who usually does their product research before making a purchase, but I found myself at one of the malls in Connecticut this weekend (with half of the State’s population, it seemed). As I walked around, I was reminded of the many discussions I have had with colleagues and associates about the future of retail. Usually, those discussions included companies like Amazon and Apple (a past employer of mine), and technology like NFC / contactless payments. Overall, here are a few conclusions I have reached about the needs of retail if it is to thrive in the future:

1. It is all about the experience. When a consumer goes into a brick and mortar store, a great experience can mean the difference between browsing and purchasing. It can also define a brand. I remember when I was getting my first computer before college, I wanted a Macbook Pro. Sure I could have just ordered it online, or gone to my local computer store to buy it, but instead I drove 45 minutes to the closest Apple Store, simply because I wanted the “Apple buying experience.” Apple has been particularly successful with defining this experience, having the highest sales per square foot of any other retailer. As Apple recently announced with the introduction of iBeacon, personalization is key to future consumer experience.

2. Consumers should not have to think about payments. From a merchant perspective, there remains a continued concern of “abandoned shopping carts,” typically discussed as a phenomenon with online commerce, but a remaining concern for brick and mortar stores. The last thing a merchant wants is a willing consumer who decides to abandon their purchase because of the checkout process. There continues to be development around this pain point with products like PayPal’s Beacon and the Square Wallet, but this is a particular area ripe for further innovation, and we will continue to see the convergence of the physical and digital in solutions.

3. Merchants are looking for low-cost revenue and expense solutions. Most retailers do not have great margins, particularly restaurants. Any low cost-solution that helps a business achieve greater revenue (typically through new customer acquisition) or cut down on costs (usually though supply chain efficiencies) is good. Unfortunately, due to their uniqueness, this is often difficult for SMBs to inexpensively obtain these services. We will continue to see easy-to-use data-based solutions like Swipely that help SMBs understand their customers, but there is still a great deal more opportunity in this space.

I always enjoy learning more about companies helping solve these issues. Tweet at me with #FutureRetail, and show me what you’ve got!