Customer Experience: Bedrock of Retail Forever
In 1825, the first department store sprouts from the sidewalks of New York City. For the first time, shoppers can choose from a wide selection of consumer goods in a single store location.
31 years later, a Chicago department store offers in-store escalators and interactive displays to their customers. Shopping becomes a recreational activity instead of a chore.
In 1876, another Chicago department store distributes complementary mail-order catalogs to homes. Now, everyone can purchase the same goods no matter where they live.
Fast-forward to 1916 and the first self-service grocery store opens its doors to shoppers, ushering in a novel independent shopping experience.
Discount-driven chain stores arrive in 1920, followed closely by large-selection supermarkets in 1930. Then come the communal shopping centers of the suburban ‘50s and big-box retailers of the revolutionary ‘70s. Near the turn of the 21st century, computers open the floodgates to a burgeoning digital world that (among other things) makes out-of-store shopping more convenient than ever.
And now here we are today, standing in front of the ajar door of 2023, tilting our heads to the side and guessing what the next big thing will be while we catch our breath from the past 200 years of dizzying evolution. E-commerce and physical retail have morphed together. Stores now double as online fulfillment centers. Artificial intelligence is finally gaining traction. And on top of all this, retailers are still dodging the downstream debris of an injured supply chain and restless workforce while they brace themselves for a high-cresting wave of inflation.
Every meaningful development in retail’s history: large selection, interactive displays, mail-order catalogs, self-service, low prices, online shopping...they all lead back to the simple goal of giving shoppers a great experience.
This is the current state of retail, the present moment in a long and eventful timeline. And now retailers must decide their next step. Should they lean onto artificial intelligence? Go all-in on private label? Maybe set up shop in the metaverse? What is the next big thing that will forever alter retail’s trajectory? The answer, ironically, hides in the past.
Since 1825, and probably long before, retailers have surfed the unpredictable waves of technological disruption, economic hardship, and cultural change by pointing their ships in the direction of a single trusty lighthouse: customer experience. Every meaningful development in retail’s history can be traced to it: large selection, interactive displays, mail-order catalogs, self-service, low prices, online shopping... they all lead back to the simple goal of giving shoppers a great experience.
So, the real question is not “what is the next big thing?” but “how do we create even better shopper experiences?” There are many potential answers to this question—checkout-free stores, home delivery, immersive shopping experiences, and so on—but there is also a surefire solution, something that retailers often overlook but which yields immediate improvements to in-store experience: shelf execution.
Shoppers place on-shelf availability among their top three reasons for choosing a store, yet according to the IHL Group, in 2022 North American retailers lost $349 billion in sales due to inventory distortion. Can supply chain issues and poor inventory forecasting be wholly to blame? Not quite. Grocery Manufacturers of America found that 70-90% of out-of-stocks can be attributed to poor shelf replenishment practices (or, as we like to say, poor execution).
Many store teams still rely on underwhelming tech solutions which lack the capabilities needed to maintain perfect shelves in today’s fast-paced store environment (capabilities such as automated shelf tasking, real-time item management, and vendor visibility/collaboration). Disparate systems, cluttered clipboards, and clumsy software are too slow for teams who maintain shelf quality day after day; they need a toolset, with plenty of time-saving automations and collaboration-friendly visibility that addresses all three stages of shelf execution: orchestration, execution, and evaluation.
If you want to create better experiences for your in-store shoppers, start by improving your shelves. And the only way to do that, at this present moment in retail’s history, is to empower your teams with sufficient technology, retail execution technology.