Greetings from seat 26G. I'm on my flight back from Miami where the Theatro team spent a few days at the NextPoint retail technology networking event connecting with some of the leading retailers in the US and Canada. For those of you not familiar with Nextpoint, the event connects retailers with solution providers in small, boardroom-type presentations and one-on-one meeting opportunities. The retailers are kept in groups with their peers that often allow them to build relationships that last beyond the event. And the solution providers are offered a significant amount of face time with key retail execs that also facilitate relationship-building in such a tight-knit industry.
Theatro was fortunate to have a completely packed schedule…in fact all of our one on one meetings were double booked! This allowed us to not only discuss the value of Theatro to almost every company that attended, but also to better understand the challenges, opportunities, and the overall state of the retail industry. There was no booth busier than Theatro, and in fact they literally had to kick us out because our meetings were continuing long after the event ended! What we heard was that retailers are:
- Opening up stores - Its true! Not every retailer is shutting down gobs of their physical stores. Some of the regional brands we talked with are actively growing store count, taking advantage of opportunities in regions that are not typically served by their competitors. While the role of the retail store is significantly changing, this does not mean the death of the store format is imminent.
- Fighting with legacy technology - Time and time again we’ve heard of stories where legacy hardware and software still exists in the retail environment. This includes scanners from the early ’90’s, green screens to access merchandise systems, and clunky communication systems that were built before the mobile revolution has taken hold. Many note that these antiquated solutions are major barriers to success, however retail executives continue to be cautious in investing into rebuilding their core enterprise systems. While being frugal can add short term value, most retailers are still missing core systems of insight and engagement which will drive long term growth and loyalty.
- Lacking modern communication tools and mobility solutions - Its shocking to continue to hear about the slow and antiquated methods that retailers employ to communicate with their distributed store teams. It often takes a day or two to create an enterprise communication, and that communication is often only spoken once during the morning huddle (and then relegated to the cork board in the back room). No surprise that workers in the evening shift are receiving only a small portion of the daily message form HQ. And those retailers that are actively pursuing a mobility strategy for their store teams, many are dealing with conflicting priorities between store teams as well as struggling to prove the value of screen-based use cases.
While it was encouraging to hear that some chains were growing stores and most were focusing on the core fundamentals of retail, many still have not progressed fast enough to keep pace with customer expectations. Traditional store-based retailers are continuing to try and fit the new, elevated expectations of customers into their traditional models, and in my opinion continue to miss the mark. Legacy models of buying hardware and software licenses locks retailers into long-term deals, unable to break free to move to flexible SaaS models. Change is not happening fast enough for these legacy retailers to truly keep pace with customer expectations, and significant reform is needed to convert these organizations to agile, customer-led companies.
The good news is that new solutions are being piloted by retailers every day, challenging the technology status quo. Massive opportunities exist for the retail industry to improve, and events such as Nextpoint are helpful at driving change. The question is, will retailers have the discipline to inject agility into their org and rethink how they purchase and implement innovative technologies that will allow them to keep up with higher customer expectations.
SVP Marketing, Theatro