LET ME ASK A QUESTION: Have we reached the tipping point of retailing and technology or just he intersection? Not a simple question, and
one that has no simple answer. I think I will
take a page from the current resident of
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and reserve the
right to change my mind whenever applicable—without the tweets.
Technology has had a transformative
impact on retailing and many feel we are
just skimming the surface in terms of the
supply chain, in store operations and customer outreach in an industry.
But as the world swoons over drones,
driverless cars, robotics, sensors, VR, A.I., Io T
Are we so caught up in
trying to convince every-
one, including ourselves,
that system 2. 1 is better
than system 2.0, we forget
that keeping things inter-
esting for customers is
what made retailing great?
As the German Philosopher
Martin Heidegger pro-
phetically wrote in 1977,
“Everywhere we remain
unfree and chained to technology.”
There is, however, a big difference
between chains and the ties that bind. I
am not some Luddite who sees technol-
ogy as an evil tool of the ruling class. Quite
the contrary. Despite my advancing years,
I barely remember a time without it, nor
would I want to turn back the clock.
However, the most valuable technology
is the one that creates a seamless online-
to-store experience, bringing the amenities
of the online world to brick-and-mortar. In
other words, engaging customers at differ-
One of the most powerful is mobile payment. It has been estimated that 70 percent
of all mobile users in the U.S. will make a
mobile payment this year and those payments will total about $60 billion by 2018.
This means that retailers who do not implement some kind of mobile system are
throwing away customers and dollars.
Kroger’s “Digital Shelf Edge Project” consists of sensors and analytics technology
that enable shelves and products to interact with customers and offer tailored pricing through their mobile devices as they
walk the aisles. This is likely to be expanded
in the coming months.
We can all cite numerous examples of
practical technology as a selling tool. And
it is indeed a valuable tool in the hands of a
skilled workman, but it is not the only tool.
I am convinced that stores that not only
survive, but also thrive, in the coming years
will be the ones offering unique in-store
experiences. If we lose sight of the creativity
that has been a hallmark of retailing for the
past century, we are admitting that an app
is just as good as a tactile experience. I, for
one, am not there yet—and neither are customers in multiple demographic groups or
else we would be seeing a lot more empty
In the final analysis, customers remain
interested as long as they want what you
sell—not what you want to sell or try to
sell them for their own good. Case in point,
kale. In my opinion, a great marketing
accomplishment and a PR coup worthy of
the great P T Barnum.
But a showman like Barnum was on the
right track. The idea was to keep customers coming back. What keeps them coming
back to your store? The old stack-it-high-and-watch-it-fly philosophy just does not
cut it. And we know that price alone is not
the magnetic force we all thought it was.
It might be as simple as building creative
in-store displays or taking a page from the
great department store merchants that
made window displays an art form. Of
course, you need windows in order to do
If you can, create what has been called
a “decompression zone” inside the front
entrance of a store—an empty space that
services as a transition from outside to
inside that enables customers to experience what the store is all about and what
you have to offer.
Lease unused or unproductive space
to local entrepreneurs and artists who
might be selling everything from jewelry
and clothing to paintings. Develop your
own Top Chef-style competition with local
chefs, student chefs or with customers and
feature the best recipes—with sampling—
in the stores. It is about creating some kind
of an event on a regular basis that will keep
people coming back to the stores and
maybe even inspire them.
Aiming for A Low-cAL Tech DieT
Retail can work hand-in-hand with technology, but should not be consumed by it.
By Len Lewis
Len Lewis is a regular Grocery
Headquarters columnist and
veteran industry journalist.
I am convinced that
stores that not only
survive, but also thrive, in
the coming years will be
the ones offering unique