CTO & Co-Founder Thomas Obrey
Weighs in On the Changing Roles of People and Places in the New Retail
I’ve always done my best shopping with help. Not for the menial things of course, like groceries and household staples. I am naturally aspirated there. I am talking about the more personal things, like, everything else.
When I do shop I usually pin myself to someone in the store I observe as being informed or energetic. They can be shy at first. They don’t know their true powers, but like anyone, once I get them talking or they get me talking, magic happens.
Good Store Associates Are the Greatest Influencers a Brand Has.
When I connect well with an associate, I engage, learn and buy more. Always. Maybe not at that exact moment. But it happens.
I will also tend to develop a sense of loyalty to that store, and more importantly, to that associate. I will come back and look for them. We stay in touch if they’ve shared contact info, and I will ping them when something of interest crosses my path.
Thomas McCarthy at the Shinola Store in Boston is one of those people to me. We’ve been vibing for a number of years, especially during covid.
Who are yours?
Retail Has Changed, No Surprises There. But is it Going Back?
I don’t care how you spin it. Retail has changed and its primary role will be to support the digital experience. If you have read Snowcrash, Ready Player One, or are paying attention to the evolution of AR, VR or Live Shopping, you know it. If you’re not, I’d read the cliff notes on these things.
Coming out of the pandemic, I will admit, we’re already seeing massive retail growth as we all ease out of being on restriction, even beyond pre-covid norms. But I think it’s more of an in-person fulfillment trend, urban warehouse-style, with inventory checks and product particulars pre-confirmed online.
We’re all just itching for a trip to touch and feel and try things out, to get that feeling back again, and in some sense to ensure our pre-covid memories are aligned with our post-covid fits. So to speak.
It’s probably important for me to give some perspective as to the why I’m a believer in this urban warehouse and the magic of associates’ evolution.
Amazon bought WholeFoods to close the final mile(s) gap. It’s more than retail, it’s the urban warehouse play. Walmart, too, has mastered the urban warehouse and omni experience. Target is getting there, followed closely by Home Depot. Four legit monsters. They own the loop.
Let’s look at Home Depot, which is staffed with amazing humans that (mostly) know the products and their uses inside and out. Imagine that? Expert in-store associates guiding and educating shoppers. They are trapped inside retail though. And that too is evolving. More on that another time.
Temporary Change or a Purposeful Evolution?
We saw BOPIS and BOPAC as major steps forward in the retail experience, when really, they were just must thrusts, because, you know, Covid. A lot of brands scrambled to build this out as a survival tactic. In contrast, those that invested earnestly in Digital, prior and during, reaped great rewards early because they had already connected retail with etail. It’s more than BOPAC – it was about local inventory, local shipping, and local service.
A lot of folks still think retail is and always will be king, and that Digital is (still) the supplement.
We’re all waiting for things to get back to normal, but they won’t. We’re changed. We think differently. Our priorities have shifted. As shoppers.
So, we’re left to rethink the role of Retail, its purpose in the buying and advocacy cycle, and more importantly, we need to rethink the Associates’ role. Because they’re not all just associates – they’re your influencers.
Retail is Here to Support Digital. Your Associates are Your Influencers. Bring Them Together.
I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that retail is the new urban warehouse, and the omni experience has never been more critical to the life of a brand. Covid was the jet fuel that created a 10-year hop forward. If you’re not thinking like this, you’re devolving.
We’re at the rethinking our tools stage.
What’s that mean? Have you ever hammered a nail with the butt end of a screwdriver? Or use a butter knife to unscrew something? We’re kind of there folks.
Tools Evolve and So Must Our Thinking.
So hey, here’s an interesting concept. Maybe a metaphor? I dunno. But this may click something for you.
I spent years in the networking industry prior to Pixel. Network Management specifically. I remember when edge caching became a thing. Early CDN stuff. If you’re on the tech side, or ecommerce in general, you remember that edge caching for Digital was a game-changer. It brought your most requested things to the edge, instead of, say, hauling all your images and content and whatnot from California to Maine through the public web.
Edge caching allowed us to purposefully store our most important, large-ish and frequently requested items at the edge, all the edges, and whichever edge was closest to you – served it up. It’s what took page loads from minutes to sub-seconds. It was like magic.
That might be TMI, but I’m happy to chat it up more over on LinkedIn if you’re curious. Edge caching changed B2C and B2B Commerce. It addressed impatience-related abandonment. At one time. But still.
My point is that the “bigs” are all doing edge caching now. They’ve embraced the urban warehouse movement. WholeFoods, Walmart, Home Depot. Some are better than others, but that’s like anything in life.
You Can’t Afford to Not Think Like This.
If in the New Year you’ve decided to invest in eating better and to exercise more, to essentially transform yourself after a year of the blah’s – can’t we do that with retail and its associates? Isn’t it time to take what we already have and just think differently about it? Give it the business equivalent of some MegaFood Vitamins, a few nutritional lessons, and a Planet Fitness membership?
I dunno. Maybe it’s just me. It deserves a deep think.
And what about the Thomas’ of the world. Our associates and influencers? Next time let’s scratch at that idea a bit and connect a few dots. It hits on a few potentially contentious retail, etail and service norms that deserve some attention too.
Thinking beyond Omni. Deploying your influencers. That’s something.
– Thomas Obrey, Co-Founder & CTO, PixelMEDIA