D!igitalist Magazine / Overcoming Digital Disruption In The Retail Industry

Pop-up stores, with their temporary, mobile, high-traffic approach, let both mainline and new retailers test products, messages, and locations with low cost and high sales per square foot potential. This new $10 billion segment delivers for shoppers seeking seasonal, trendy, and unique items.

These shoppers are now spoiled. They expect browsing, ordering, payment and delivery to be painless, fast, and cheap, no matter how they buy. The want and demand omnichannel service. Every time Amazon innovates another “free delivery” model, you face more pressure to meet them head-on.

Day-to-day purchases will soon be controlled by self-replenishing products. Connected homes, cars, appliances, and products will communicate and transact on their own. Light bulbs, detergent, copy paper, and dog food will order their own replacements and these meta-service providers (Amazon, Walmart) will be the natural choice for other purchases as well.

The newest hybrid retail innovations bring the online and in-store experiences together in fresh ways. Two-thirds of in-store shoppers check prices on their smart phones before buying, and “showrooming” (using the local retailers to browse products later bought online) has become the norm.

But online and in-store buying are still tied together. Though 72% of younger buyers shop prices online before buying in a physical store, the store is still where they purchase. Over half of shoppers surveyed prefer buying from a source with a physical store presence over an online-only one. Savvy retailers combine bricks and clicks in new ways, such as online purchase options within the physical store, or free delivery of items bought in the store (who wants to lug items around the rest of the day?).

These changes in retail will create a dislocation of retail employees. With 4.6 million Americans working in retail, the industry is the country’s top employer. Automated warehouses, drone delivery, robotic customer service staff, and bot-staffed call centers will replace the store clerk of old. Companies either must invest in robots right now, or prepare to pay for the best employees who will be providing customers with extraordinary personalized curated services and experiences.

These are massive, disruptive, dynamic trends for retailing… but an effective board of directors can help in mastering them. The first question: Who belongs on the ideal retailing board of directors? Most current retail board members made their bones at traditional brick-and-mortar retail companies. They’re smart and experienced, but do they have the experience your stores need now?

I’ve found that traditional retail board members are resistant to (and a bit scared of) all the disruptive changes noted above. In the turbulent world of modern retail, your boardroom talent pool needs to reach beyond the usual suspects to seek candidates who are masters of change.

Add directors with experience in successful, digitally created businesses, with strong knowledge of brand marketing through social media and curating online content that builds buyer loyalty. With customer experience so central to retailing now, adding board knowledge on how consumers interact and make value judgments is invaluable. This applies even if the board prospect comes from entertainment, technology, or other non-retail field.

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