8 Experts on The Future of Retail

By BrainStation July 8, 2019

The close relationship consumers have with technology poses a unique challenge for retailers: creating a shopping experience that enables customers to move seamlessly between the physical and digital world. 

With this in mind, BrainStation sat down with retail executives across three cities at our Future of Retail panel series to ask about where the industry is headed and how their companies are adapting to accommodate customers’ growing relationship with technology.

Retail is Changing

The 2018 Corporate Longevity Forecast indicated that the average lifespan of an organization continues to decrease, and retailers will be among those most heavily affected. 

“From my perspective, I think the change is so significant that you have to reinvent the business model – and it can’t be based on greed, it can’t be based on profitability, it has to be based on values,” said Ryan Lindholm, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Innovation at RYU. 

The basis of interaction between retailers and customers has changed. Consumers are more informed than ever before, meaning brands have to set themselves apart. 

“It’s not just what the environment or the merchant is offering, it’s what the consumer is doing [that’s changed],” said Mike Reid, Partner and CTO at Cat Janiga Jewelry. “I walk into a store with different intent than five or ten years ago because I have a smartphone. The way I interact and engage with that in-store environment has fundamentally changed.” 

Mat Povse, Senior Vice President of Retail and Geek Squad Services at Best Buy, explained that despite all the change, one key principle has stayed constant.

“What hasn’t changed in retail is that the most important currency is our time, not our money,” said Povse. “We’ve migrated to this ideology that time is supposed to be well spent, it’s supposed to be memorable – and I think good retailers are working hard to make that happen.”

Balancing Technology and Human Interaction

A big topic of conversation across all panels was the complexity of balancing a digital and physical retail presence to create a seamless experience for the customer. 

“Like all other big banks, we’re at a huge inflection point in the way that our customers want to interact with us,” said Daniel Resnick, Director of Customer Experience and Omni Channel Strategy at Scotiabank. “We similarly face a digital wave, and we all want to have convenience and be able to do our banking from the comfort of our own homes – but our customers also need advice, and that face-to-face human contact. So we’re constantly trying to figure out how we balance those two pieces.” 

Aaron Fernandes, Senior Director of Digital Services for Loblaw Digital, explained how Loblaw took a traditional industry and created an online element. 

“Digital has finally started to make its way into grocery, into pharmacy,” said Fernandes. “If we look at customer expectations, they’re completely changing, so we’re always experimenting and trying to figure out what the model of the future is, and what’s going to stick in our particular space.” 

It’s not just about furthering your online capabilities, but creating the space to connect with your customers in a way that’s meaningful. Mary Anne Savoie, the Director of Customer Experience at Mejuri, shared how the company has began connecting with their audience in the physical space.

“At Mejuri we’re actually digitally native, which is the opposite of traditional,” explained Savoie. “And now we’re venturing into what we call “IRL” – in real life – offline touchpoints. We have two locations now and a bunch more on the way.” 

There is a common misconception that the future is solely digital, but what brands are discovering is that tying bricks and mortar stores to their digital presence is essential to success.

How to Adapt

With this balancing act in mind, organizations are changing their retail experience to give clients the flexibility they want. 

“A few years ago we decided that we would create experience stores,” said Glenn Minor, Vice President, Retail Stores at Best Buy Canada. “These stores are an entirely different way for the consumer to shop – they can actually experience what they’re going to buy. Experiences are what people want now.”

Not only do consumers want experiences, they are expecting personalization at every stage of interaction with a brand. To do this, organizations are relying on data to tailor the experience.

“Probably more so than  any other sector, we’re sitting at the forefront of big data,” said Resnick. “I have a team of people who are constantly mining transaction data to understand what’s driving behaviour and how we can use that to better serve you.”

Everyone is relying on data, from banks to small businesses, and most organizations in between.

“Something that we’re focused a lot on right now is using all of this data, and feedback, and information to personalize experiences,” explained Savoie. “It’s no longer ‘who is our target market?’ but ‘who are our customers?’ Each persona deserves to be communicated to uniquely.”

Introducing personalized shopping experiences for customers is what allows organizations to compete with the global powerhouses. Creating relationships and understanding your consumers is crucial as we move into the future of retail. 

Andrew Cherwenka, President of Touchpoints Retail Consulting, put it simply:

“If you’re building a brand, or you have a retail presence, or you have amazing stores where you host community events and bring people in for experiences that mean something, that’s how you beat the giants.”