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Retail Rings in the New Year Focused on Opportunities Over Challenges

Thanks to a successful holiday season that lent credence to all who have been saying retail is not dead, the industry is experiencing a high—one that will ideally be used as a springboard to better things in 2018 and beyond.

Exhibitors at the NRF Big Show this week in New York were unanimous in their support of stores and confident that retailers have what it takes to turn things around.

“Any time there is a new tech shift, the marketplace has to adapt. What’s happening with the store closures are that these retailers, they are adapting, and physical stores are a huge advantage for retailers,” said Lori Mitchell-Keller, global general manager of consumer industries for technology solutions provider SAP. “There’s an experience that you get with physical stores that you can’t get online. Retailers that are getting it right are creating an experience and a destination that the shopper wants to go to, that they can’t get online.”

Michael Griffiths, VP of global marketing and communications for global commerce service provider Pitney Bowes, gives credit to retailers who have remained open to experimentation but haven’t been distracted by the swirl of activity around them.

“What retailers are doing well, is saying, ‘We understand what we are good at—our brand, store locations—but we have to understand that we can’t copy Amazon,’” he said. “They are not limiting themselves, they are giving themselves the power to reach new audiences.”

[Read more about the retail outlook for 2018: Boosted by Tax Reform, Economic Trends Will Continue in Retailers’ Favor]

And drawing in new consumers requires merchants to remember that stores aren’t just about the product stocking the shelves, said Samuel Mueller, CEO and co-founder of barcode scanner tech firm Scandit. He said they need to be destinations for unique experiences.

“The store, from that perspective, is a huge opportunity to offer and be a store of emotion. This is where technology can help to sort of multiply that emotion and share it. This is a critical success factor,” he said.

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Francisco Melo said physical locations are particularly vital for apparel since consumers often want to touch and feel, but the VP and general manager of global RFID at labeling solutions company Avery Dennison said success will mean mastering both online and off.

“Those that are getting the concept of omnichannel right—merging online convenience with the experience of a physical store, in addition to merging a physical and virtual experience— those are the ones that are winning,” he said. “Once you do that, what you are likely to see is a significant experience of online sales—which are driven by physical stores.”

Picking up on the theme of the interdependence of the physical boxes and the virtual realm,

Sabine Gruen, head of industry marketing retail at connected commerce firm Diebold Nixdorf, said retailers need to look at the chains that are blending the two best. For instance, Amazon bookstores, which promote Prime member discounts in the stores.

“A success criteria for retailers in 2018 is the implementation of digital, interactive consumer touch points that help automate processes and improve the consumer experience at the same time,” she said.

Marco Paúl, VP of operations and business development for smart apparel firm Loomia, agrees that omnichannel is the only way to go today, but he also encourages store executives to remember the fundamentals of retail.

“Consumers ultimately look for value, assortment and experiences,” he said. “Companies that deliver a wide range of options for the consumers and give them an experience are the ones that are going to be able to succeed.”

While retailers’ toolkit may have changed, Gayle Meyer, senior director of global marketing and communications at Impinj, offering RAIN RFID for IoT connectivity, agreed that playbook for retailers remains the same.

“Retailers need to figure out how to take advantage of their assets, which is their locations and their inventory, and how to get those items to shoppers efficiently,” she said.

—reporting by Genevieve Scarano