The Future Retail Success Depends On Culture, Not Technology

by MR Magazine Staff

Between virtual assistants like Amazon’s Echo, tests of delivery service by drone, and the option to pay by Bitcoin, it’s clear technology is disrupting the retail industry. Traditional retailers that struggle to adopt new technologies like AI and deep learning seem doomed for failure. But to be prepared for the future, the retail industry needs to undergo a cultural transformation more than it needs to adopt any given technology — at least, that was the impression Arun Nair, co-founder and chief technology officer of RetailNext, gave me. After reading a piece Nair wrote for RetailNext’s 7th Annual Executive Forum entitled Deep Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Your Not-So-Distant Store of the Future, I had the opportunity to interview him personally. Although his article states, “Savvy, winning retailers will recognize the technology solutions are much more of a today thing than a tomorrow thing,” we spent most of our conversation talking about the way people in the retail industry need to change. For starters, retailers have to embrace a new staffing model. Currently a lot of retail labor is comprised of non-revenue generating activities: managers spend loads of time figuring out what products should be stocked in the store and where and how they should be stocked, scheduling staffing, and filling out reports; employees stock shelves, track down products, and search for product and customer data. The automation of non-selling activities through robotics and predictive modeling will reduce the number of employees retailers need and change the skills they must have. Retailers will no longer need big teams to work on staffing, store layouts, inventory, store development, etc. Nair likened the change to the loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector, saying, “It’s an unpleasant and fundamental change to the infrastructure and culture, but retailers need to embrace it before it engulfs them.” Read more at Forbes.