November 25, 2014

'Tis the season – for elbowing your way through crowded lines at malls to get the best deals…and the best presents.

As the holiday shopping frenzy begins, brick-and-mortar retailers are rolling out new tools to engage increasingly finicky customers – from personal shopper apps to Macy’s location-based, digital coupons.

But that may not be enough in the long term to keep pleasing consumers.

"Retail will see more change in the next five to 10 years than perhaps we’ve seen in the last 50 or 100 years," says Courtney Reagan, CNBC's retail reporter.

Amazon: the 800-Pound Gorilla
 
So far, Amazon, with its out-of-the-box strategies, has been the biggest disrupter in retail. CEO Jeff Bezos has said, "if you double the number of experiments you do per year you’re going to double your inventiveness." Many of his bets have paid off — and that has other retailers scrambling to keep up.
 
"When you go to retail conferences, Amazon is like a four letter word. Nobody wants to say it, but it’s always there and everyone’s thinking about it all the time," says Reagan.

Food Delivery, All Year Round

With AmazonFresh rolling out to cities across the country, the online giant could soon be taking care of your Thanksgiving turkey, as well as the day-after shopping spree.

Reagan doesn’t believe Amazon — or anyone else, for that matter — has conquered grocery delivery just yet. "You have to place your order, you can’t feel the apple, you need to be there to accept it when it’s delivered," she argues.
 
But, Howard Anderson, a lecturer at Harvard Business School, thinks the convenience factor of delivery could trump the downsides and quickly win consumers over.

It takes you 40 minutes to shop and 40 minutes to come home. If there was a 100 percent guarantee, like Zappos, and if you weren’t happy with the apples and if you were assured that within two hours they would replace them, you could make this leap of faith.

 

Devising a New Strategy
 
Retailers need to take their strategy "to a place that your competitors are unable or unwilling to follow, where you can upset the status quo," says Anderson.
 
He also suggests that some stores can become models for others, especially when it comes to experiential shopping. Replicating some aspects of Apple’s Genius Bar, for example, could "take a Home Depot store and make that much more interactive."

What’s Next for Retailers…and Consumers

Delivery within 24 hours, customized Nike shoes, and personalized recommendations all mean that the retail scene is going to get even more competitive.

“We’re going to see stores selling software disguised as products, and we will form loyalties to companies who know us,” says Anderson. He thinks those products could get even smarter – imagine a Hermes scarf with a small chip that heats up the scarf if the temperature drops below a certain threshold.
 
But Reagan cautions that there’s a fine line when it comes to using customer data, so retailers should tread carefully. They need to figure out how to make it personal, but not so personal that people are freaked out about how much companies know about them. For retailers who find that balance, however, the future could be bright indeed.

Business, retail, shopping, Howard Anderson, Courtney Reagan

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