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How legacy retailers can catch up with digital upstarts

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David Marimon has watched as digitally native upstarts have smoked legacy retailers by being faster, more agile and more connected to their customers.

But Marimon, CEO of visual search company Catchoom, is seeing a change. The shift is fueled by traditional retailers learning from their younger competitors and turning to some of their same tactics, he says.

In some ways it’s a story of letting go of the notion that an organization needs to build everything it needs to succeed. Marimon explains in the video interview below that it doesn’t matter whether you get the job done in-house or with outside help. All that matters is that you have the best doing the work.

The idea is not brand new, but it’s building momentum. Retailers need to behave like startups — iterate quickly, fail fast, double-down on successes and constantly look for the most efficient and fastest ways to get positive results. Much has been made about digitally native retailers, like Rad Power Bikes, Stance, Allbirds, Away and others, and how they focus on their core missions in-house while assembling an ecommerce tech stack to run operations and other tasks better left to those who are experts at those things.

It’s what Marimon, whose company is based in Barcelona, is talking about when he suggests finding someone with a product already in the market. Why re-invent the wheel, let alone the truck that delivers the products, or all the order management and fulfillment functions that have to support that process?

Older retailers are executing their own digital transformations

But it’s not just digital natives. Older retailers are molding their own digital transformations by teaming with vendors whose technology has far surpassed the legacy systems that traditional retailers have been tweaking and adding on to in an effort to keep up with the gazelles. Or they are buying companies that bring them the technology they need.

Walmart, for instance, has been attempting to graft some digitally native DNA onto its retailing might by purchasing companies like Bonobos and others. Target is another example, with its purchase of Shipt. Or consider IKEA buying TaskRabbit as a way to provided a better customer experience.

Executing a digital transformation doesn’t necessarily mean a legacy retailer needs to overhaul itself from top to bottom. Retailers can look for pieces of their operation that could use a technological or systematic refresh and find outside help for managing that piece.

Retailers’ choice of tech partners abounds

Tech partners providing merchandising and marketing automation abound. Third-party logistics companies fill the halls of retail trade shows from coast to coast. Customer support companies, offering AI-powered bots, are competing for market share. AI-based return management companies offer the promise of easing the pain of one of the significant margin-crushers in ecommerce.

And, of course, Signifyd is in the vanguard of those providing a way for retailers to get a handle on fraud protection without building their own modern fraud protection system.

It all makes for an exciting time in retail, that hardly feels like an apocalypse. In fact, it feels more like things are just starting to get good.

Photo by Mike Cassidy


Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected].