Retailers, specifically brick-and-mortar, seem to be getting an unfair rap in the wake of some significant announcements. For example, Sears, JCPenny and hhgregg have all earned some negative press lately for their financial issues. And don’t forget the retailers we have already lost: Circuit City, Ultimate, Tweeter, 6th AVE and Sports Authority, to name a few. Let’s take a breather, both vendors and retailers alike, and start thinking inside the box.
Sure, restructuring is needed in the retail industry, but let’s not discount the thousands of regional retailers - many decades old – some over a century old – well ingrained into their communities. Local commerce has been a backbone of society for more than a millennia, as people gather to shop, relax, recreate, and explore. Today, this is done via cyber and social media, as well as in malls, multi-use complexes and free standing stores.
Clearly, the internet is now established within our social fabric, but it is neither the Holy Grail nor the Dark Side. Simply put, online retail is another outlet within the entire retail ecosystem. Those who embrace this new normal and use all forms-both old and new- will continue to succeed in retail. Those who do not will continue to litter the landscape. Either way, I’m fascinated to watch this evolve over the remainder of my lifetime.
In my opinion, the real rub will happen when the retail industry integrates with more virtual reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) platforms over the next decade. The traditional way of doing business by driving the market using key retailers may be at an end. Vendors, especially those investing millions of dollars on new technology, need a return on their investment sooner rather than later and are looking at all channels. This is true with 4K Ultra HD television, wireless audio and increasingly VR/AR, as seen with Amazon’s move to use AR tech to sell furniture and home appliances.
What is most interesting about the impact of AI and VR/AR on retail? Some hope these technologies will improve traffic in traditional brick-and-mortal storefronts. Others fear these technologies - in particular, VR/AR - will make the brick-and-mortar stores less attractive to younger consumers. After all, the better the technology gets, the better consumers can experience products and services using devices rather than physically visiting a store. For me, that is a scary proposition.
Thankfully, over my career I have had the good fortune of interfacing with a host of incredibly smart and honest people working in the consumer technology retail space. Most have continued to compete and flourish in the current “innovate or die” arena. These folks understand that success in the retail community is incumbent on strong relationships between vendors, retailers and consumers. This symbiosis is demanding yet critical for success. Retailers and vendors must work hard to provide the best products and accessories that fully satisfy the needs of the consumer. In my experience, the consumer, when provided with exceptional service, support and value will remain loyal to her or his retailer.
I may be a naïve, Irish, glass-half-full kind of guy, but I have been in this crazy consumer tech business since I was 19-years-old – and I know in my heart consumers still enjoy experiencing products first hand.
The future of VR/AR and AI is exciting – and retails can leverage these amazing innovations. But there is still value in personally interacting with everything you buy.
Bill Ennis, Director of Sales, Americas OmniMount Systems