The Year in Review: What Did 2015 Mean For Retail?

So how did retail do in 2015?  Here are my top take-aways for the year.

1. Brand Integrity Is Inescapable. I started 2015 with an article entitled “Brand Integrity: The Watch-Phrase for 2015″. In it, I talked about how important it is for retailers to actually genuinely care about their customers, and actively demonstrate that care in authentic ways. And I’m still writing about that today. The more I look at how retailers use social media and digital channels, the more I become convinced that social media is where retailers must prove that they genuinely care about their customers, and that they genuinely believe in the lifestyle values the brand supports and conveys. The retailers who don’t pay attention to this will remain convinced that consumers only care about price. But the reality is, consumers give you what you give them. If all you give them to care about is price, then that is indeed all they will care about.

2. There Is A Major Mindshift Happening Around Digital And The Store. At the beginning of 2015 I warned retailers to not get caught up with bright shiny objects when it came to keeping stores relevant. At NRF last year there was a lot of focus on smart mirrors and dressing rooms, and interactive kiosks that reacted to IoT sensors or consumers’ mobile phones. In our store research, we found a lot of frustration with the way retailers have historically looked at technology investments in stores. They want to bring digital into the store, but they don’t know how to do it in a meaningful way. And they’re wary of gimmicks like smart dressing rooms, even when those gimmicks drive meaningful sales improvements.

Retailers haven’t quite figured out the answer yet, but I think the answer will eventually come around to employees. We’re asking a lot more from store employees than we’ve asked in the past, and as stores become a greater part of the supply chain, we’ll ask even more from them in the next year. If we can figure out digital as part of how the employee enables the customer experience, it will go a long way towards helping retailers figure out and embrace the kinds of changes that need to happen in stores to keep them relevant.

3. To Get To Where You’re Going, It Helps To Know Where You’ve Been. Did I really write a 9-part series of articles on the history of omni-channel? Yes I did. And the industry keeps adding to the story every day. But it is crucially important to understand how we got to the cross-roads we currently face, and the decisions made in the past that led us to the challenges we struggle with right now. The saying goes, “Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it.” With cloud transformation revolutionizing how IT is delivered, and with omni-channel maybe understood, but certainly not a fully-executed strategy, there is a lot of change ahead of retail. And a lot of chances to make the same kinds of mistakes over and over again, if we don’t pay attention to where we came from.

I have never received so much feedback as for this series of articles, in nearly a decade of writing for the industry. But the funniest feedback is from all of the retailers who reached out to take issue with crediting Best Buy for starting it all some retailers chastised me for not recognising their own efforts in omni-channel or customer centricity going back into the late 1980′s or early 1990′s.

I confess, I wasn’t paying attention back then. But we’re all paying attention now.
Happy holidays from me personally! And I’m looking forward to seeing as many of you as I can at NRF in January!