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Shoptalk Buzz: Overcoming Retail Tech Paralysis

The retail tech conference Shoptalk wrapped up this week after hosting a reported 8,400 attendees. The sheer number of people in attendance at a show like that is an acknowledgement that the industry is aware it needs to change. But even given the number of service providers rushing into the space, most companies are still struggling to close the gap between awareness and execution.

Some say the impediment is twofold.

“The challenges are the tech stack and the mindset,” said Marcus LaRobardiere, director of marketing for Newstore, when asked why some retailers have failed to keep up with the speed of consumer demands.

Newstore’s goal is to marry the store operations to e-commerce to provide associates with accurate inventory information as well as helpful tips on each customer’s personal preference.

It’s an ideal scenario with retail preoccupied with finding a way to deliver on the promise of true omnichannel and shoppers baffled as to why they don’t have the same conveniences in store as they do online. And while some retailers have taken the leap—notably Untuckit, which is set to double its store fleet this year—others have yet to commit.

LaRobardiere said the hesitance has less to do with recognizing a need than timing.

“No one wants to stick their neck out, but it’s do or die,” he said.

While some companies are playing a wait-and-see game, some retailers have another reason for sitting on the sidelines.

“Forty percent of it is they’re struggling with paralysis,” said John Konczal, omnichannel solutions executive at Manhattan Associates, adding its legacy systems that have them stuck in place. “The other 60 percent is change management. They don’t know where to start.”

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Konczal said the industry needs to be more focused on change management than operations.

To be fair, the laundry list of things traditional retailers need to address is daunting, and it’s made even more so by the need to address it all at once.

Take Manhattan Associates’ latest solution, which promises to turn stores into mini warehouses. It’s the perfect example of a demand that simply didn’t exist a decade ago. But in today’s two-day shipping world in which shoppers have your competitors at their fingertips at all times, even physical spaces are multi-hyphenates.

And what’s considered a need-to-have is changing all the time.

“Speed is an issue for legacy retailers and retail in general, especially when it comes to things that will soon become table stakes,” said Mariel Balaban, marketing communications manager, OneMarket.

While Balaban’s company offers a suite of tech solutions, including a tool designed to improve post-purchase engagement, she said the issue many companies are facing originates with man not machine. “Some retailers are having a hard time getting everyone on board with the changing ecosystem,” she said.

With so many competing priorities, retailers naturally have to pick and choose their battles.

Ultimately it means service providers have to convince brands and retailers to take urgent action on the areas of the business on which they’re focused.

“The pureplays are thinking about retail instead of international,” said Flow CEO and co-founder Rob Keve. “Legacy companies think differently. They want to penetrate domestically first.”

And while Keve admitted that selling cross border isn’t imperative in order to be successful, he said companies that aren’t doing so are missing opportunities. “Fifty percent of consumers have purchased internationally. And only 20 percent of merchants offer it,” he said, adding that for some clients, creating a friction-free experience for shoppers around the globe has doubled conversion rates.

Romney Evans, co-founder of TrueFit, also offers tools aimed at making shoppers’ online experiences better. When pitching his company’s fit and preference tools, he makes sure to speak directly to the retailers’ top concerns.

“Retailers want to increase the lifetime value of active users and more efficiently get new users,” he said. ”They don’t want to lose customers to Amazon.”