NRF: Tech that capitalizes on physical retail’s strengths
At a keynote session Sunday at the NRF Big Show, Bill Simon, former president and CEO, Walmart U.S., said he believes pure e-commerce plays are "starting to see a peak." At the same time, arriving technology will finally help retailers capitalize on physical retail’s inherent strengths.
Mr. Simon spoke as part of a session entitled, "Brick is The New Black: Reinventing the Brick-And-Mortar Experience."
"It’s pretty one dimensional," he said of the e-commerce shopping experience. "You get what you want and you get it at some point in the future."
Indeed, he believes most of e-commerce’s robust growth in the last couple of years has come from its "interaction with physical retail" and that continued omnichannel pushes should play to the advantage of retailers with physical stores.
A major reason for e-commerce’s rapid gains over the last few decades is that pure-play e-tailers have "done a much better job than physical retailers in using and adapting technology."
E-commerce, he contends, is just a technology-pumped version of the catalog business started by Montgomery Ward and Sears. He added, "It’s just a faster, broader, more efficient, more effective catalog and it gets to your home much quicker. But from a customer perspective, it still has those inherent flaws. It lacks immediacy. It lacks sensory. It lacks that social interaction that you get from [physical] retail."
Still, the second major issue facing retailers is that customer expectations have "changed wildly" with shoppers expecting the same experience online as offline. He said omnichannel, with its ability to help customers reach consumers through mobile devices as well as to deliver products from varied locations, is already helping retailers use "technology to deliver great product, great prices and great customer service."
Mr. Simon admitted that search online continues to be "way better than it is in the store" with the ability to type in an item, sees pages of listings on that product, comparison shop across retailers, and find reviews. But he asserts "the technology is available today in physical retail to have almost the same purchase experience as you do online in the store. We just have to get ourselves up to speed to be able to deliver it."
Much of that technology will be driven by "the availability of data and the increasing sophistication of customers," including shoppers’ increased access to data. But, he insists, "The universal truth has not changed in thousands of years." Regardless of channel or format, "If you take care of your customers with good merchandise and service, you win the day."
Which technologies will do the most to help the physical shopping experience match and/or exceed that of online shopping? Which “inherent flaws” of pure play e-tailers should retailers with physical stores take advantage of?