Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?
Morpheus: Because you’ve never used them before.
This is Part 1 in a series of observations from the NRF Big Show 2016.
Welcome to the 21st Century! Everything is changing. The skill-set imperative for companies to survive? Adaptability. Massive disruption is appearing in the retail industry in a manner not envisioned even a decade ago. Whether it be through the use of Big Data and Cognitive Computing, an Omni-Channel experience which merges all of a consumer’s experience into one, the dawn of robot attendants, the rise of 3D Printing and the decline in bricks and mortar, disruption in the retail space is here. The biggest question is what will shifts in retail look like over the next few years? I had an opportunity through my partnership as an IBM Futurist, and working with IBM Commerce #NewWayToEngage, to attend the National Retail Federation, (NRF), Big Show and catch a glimpse of not only the future, but the “now” we will begin to experience in 2016.
Omni-channel experiences for customers are radically transforming consumers expectations of retail. ~Tamara McCleary
Customers are omni-channel, so brands have no choice but to nuzzle into the embrace of all in order to be omnipresent. The prospect of an omni-channel experience for customers is beginning to radically transform consumers perspectives of retail. Not only do consumers expect a personalized experience, but they are beginning to expect it across all forms of engagement with a retailer; be it online, mobile or in-store. While the demise of brick and mortar stores is likely over-stated, it is notable that an increasing number of sales are moving online. At the NRF Big Show, Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour revealed that Under Armour is now seeing 12% of their sales coming from online sources.
You had me at… “The End of Laundry.”
With the growing ease of purchasing online and by mobile device, the effects on retail distribution through physical stores is unclear. Additional emerging technologies like 3D printing in the coming decade will also have a significant impact. Hershey’s demonstrated at the NRF Big Show, the ability to 3D print their flagship M&M brand candies.
My fellow futurist and friend, Bryan Eisenberg, CMO and Founder of IdealSpot brought up a forward-glancing idea, taking M&M’s as a starting point, and positing the consideration of 3D printed clothing, as well as, daily recycling of the soiled clothing into material to print new clothing, (and wait I haven’t gotten to the super sexy part)… thereby eliminating the need to do laundry! Bam! So hot I’m swooning! Seriously, as a business owner, consultant, international speaker, wife, and mother juggling more hats than the peddler in the children’s book, Caps For Sale, I was moist with excitement at the prospect of “The End of Laundry.”
Walk-in Closet For Rent!
Imagine a future in which you would no longer need to purchase clothing in a store but simply produce your wardrobe at-home. You can skip the wash cycle, and feel as environmentally friendly as a hippie in a hemp field by recycling what you have on your back to use as raw material for 3D printing new, sexy, fashion-forward vestments to sport every day. How would something even remotely close to this concept shift and shape retailers and industry in the coming years?
What’s IBM’s Watson got to do with it?
IBM demonstrated a variety of new technologies, most of which were based on Watson. Watson’s cognitive computing abilities allow it to look at vast amounts of data, much of which is unstructured and currently unused across the internet (approximately 80% of data is this unstructured type according to IBM), allowing for companies to understand their customers in profound new ways.
Nadia & Nao at your service.
Through omni-channel personalization, customers have an opportunity to experience a retail transaction where no matter how they interact through a retailer, they will feel as if their needs and preferences are known, perhaps before they even know what they need themselves. Imagine a future where kiosks and robotic attendants (like IBM’s Nadia and Nao) serve you in various retail establishments. The shift away from human employees will be dramatic, however, the introduction of an omnichannel experience driven by cognitive systems like Watson will carry your preferences with you wherever and whenever you choose to interact with a company.
“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.” ~ Leon C. Megginson
One of my greatest takeaways from this year’s NRF Big Show was the exciting possibilities for all companies, large and small, startup or legacy retailer, to compete and offer compelling experiences for consumers. By being nimble and leveraging data, cognitive analytics and a desire to create genuine relationships with customers, the coming decade is bright for retailers and consumers alike.
(In the desire for full disclosure, I attended the NRF Big Show on behalf of IBM, one of my clients.)