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Are you keeping the ship afloat or trying to make it go faster?

Chris Field
Chris Field

Which of these two pictures is a shop window?

Which of these two pictures is a shop window?

Young girl using mobile phone

Shop window

Naturally, they both are – and we have all been warned that Millennials, who are largely driving the future of shopping, see the smartphone as their window onto retail. The problem is, even armed with this knowledge, no one can really relax and say they are down with the Millennials, fully tapped into the future.

The truth is, once shopping shifts online through smartphones (and the figures rise every day) we all have to think what that will really mean to retail as a whole, and retail on screen in particular. It is probably true to say that no one is really prepared for that.

There is still a huge gulf between what ‘experts’ think retailers should do and what they actually do. Stores largely cling to what has worked for 100 years, even if they are able to do it beautifully; take a trip down Sloane Street to see some of the best current examples.

Meanwhile, other retailers simply add a click-and-collect function to an otherwise unchanged store, with little view of just what impact online shopping and smartphones will have on the bricks-and-mortar – and the staff working at the front line of customer service – in the next 18 months.

None of this is helped by the fact that retailers are distracted by a rash of challenges right now, mostly to do with rising costs and flat demand. Caught between the two, the focus is often on keeping the ship afloat rather than trying to make it go faster.

That’s not to say there’s a shortage of dialogue going on around retail innovation and technology; quite the contrary, but those conversations don’t always involve the decision makers that input good ideas and solutions back into the business.

Clearly, the retailers that make innovation business as usual, rather than allowing it to distract themselves from reality, will be best placed to confront the tough challenges of omnichannel shopping.

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