Selfridges is rightly labeled by some as the pioneer of modern retail. Selfridges, Great Britain, first demonstrated how shopping can be a wholesome experience. Shopping became more than just a chore of fulfilling basic needs- it became a fun experience. Modern retail in the 21st century, went through a similar journey – leveraging technology advances like high-performance computing, to transform shopping into a surreal experience for the modern consumer. Retail transformed from a trading business to a “technology business” and subsequently into a “data business”.
The COVID-19 pandemic posed new challenges for luxury retailers. Shopping metamorphosed into a virtual experience business. Delivery and associated logistics, while gearing up for e-commerce in a rapid manner, had to be ready overnight. Online ordering, curbside pickup, and home delivery became the norm. Even established brands like Instacart floundered to deliver in times like these- as the abnormally high surge in demand resulted in Instacart falling behind on sourcing and fulfilling delivery orders. However, businesses were compelled to adjust over the last twelve months, leading to a renewed appreciation for third-party delivery arms assisting them. While Peapod majorly curtailed operations in 2017-2018, Instacart and so many other local delivery services came up to help the situation. Thus, defining the ‘new normal’ of the retail industry.
NRF 2021 Chapter 1 projected that the “new normal” will change the way retail business is done, but will definitely bring back the "steady-state normal" and will lure the buyers back to stores and in-person food joints. Of course, we all realize that this will not be a simple rollback to normal. Some businesses will remain in the current state of virtual buy and delivery, but the demand nature of the customer will change, probably asking for a lot more.
For instance, one can buy cosmetics over a mobile app these days, even match the feature, style, and color of lipstick, can get a recommendation directly to match eye shadow, foundations, etc. The buyer will expect a similar service, or maybe more, at a store. She would like to have more assistance with the product, more information, and maybe a personal flavor in the service. People will probably go to the store to get an experience but may order online. So, a store essentially becomes more of an “experience pod” for the actual purchase decision.
The transformation required to provide a much better experience in the store, along with online, will require more and more innovation for in-store applications assisting store associates. It will also require more deliberated self-services, probably generating the feeling of "selecting her clothes in her walking closet" or "trying cosmetics at home in front of her dressing table". Retailers need to transform the store, make it easy to navigate, provide personalized pods in-store for expensive cosmetics, keep the provision of a "walking closet style" experience for high-value clothes and jewelry. All of these need a tremendous collection, cleaning, and contextualization of data for needed use cases, topic-based personalized recommendation, and so on. Technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality will play a major role in making this happen.
Data will be the core of the retail business. A retail store will be like a Big Data Lake. The supply chain will be a dynamic IoT data stream. A truck carrying retailer goods today will be truckloads of data about shippers and items in the future. These carriers would be continuously exchanging data with the base station; probably threatening the security of said data. This is where Cybersecurity will become the most important accessory for the data business. Even millions of transactions with sensitive payment and stock information through the network will require a massive understanding of the complexity of the network and data security. Complex network topology will of course have its spontaneous weakness and singularities, making retail a game of mathematics.