It might sound funny, given the constant talk of retailers shutting stores and going out of business, but my bet is that history will look back at this time as the dawn of a bold new era in retail.
Call it what you like: the retail apocalypse, retail’s digital transformation or the rise of the digital natives, we’re witnessing a once-in-generation shake-up that will leave retail different, but better off.
Lauren Freedman, of Astound Commerce, is a digital retail expert who knows retail and its ups and downs as well as anyone. She’s worked as a merchant in a brick-and-mortar store, she’s owned her own apparel store, she is an ecommerce pioneer and now she guides ecommerce enterprises working to navigate a rapidly transforming industry.
I spoke with Freedman at Shoptalk last week and our conversation rolled around to a popular topic in the hallways and ballrooms of the Las Vegas hotel hosting one of retail’s hottest trade shows: the role of digital-first retailers in these tumultuous times.
Some highlights from our conversation are featured in the video below.
So yes, there is something distinctive about the so-called digital natives. As Freedman says, they are able to start with a clean slate when it comes to building systems and even teams. Companies that formed in a time when consumers already were shopping by gliding effortlessly back and forth between desktop and mobile were able to create marketing, supply chains and customer experiences molded for that kind of world.
Digital natives could start their businesses knowing that consumers have more information than ever before and were also more willing to flit from retailer to retailer while shopping, depending on which was best at meeting their needs, whatever those particular needs might be at the time.
Digital natives can partner with the best in breed
And digital natives have been able to pick and choose among partners and technology vendors to find the best of the bunch for handling tasks and operations beyond the core of their businesses. They could, in a sense, build a virtual company, where shipping, fraud management, customer support and returns management weren’t down the hall, but spread across the globe.
Freedman went on to point out that it is still early days for the digital natives. New business models, or new variations on old business models, are exciting, but time has a way of testing even the best ideas. It’s premature to say that anyone has it all figured out when it comes to retail in the digital era, but the fresh ideas emerging are encouraging.
What we can count on is an exciting time ahead and entrepreneurial retailers who will try new things as they look for the path forward.
Contact Mike Cassidy at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.