Retail Leaders Doubling Down on Brick-and-Mortar–For Good Reason

Credit from Brent Biddulph


The future of retail lies in its past: brick-and-mortar stores. And the future is as bright as ever.

Retailers around the world are stepping up their data analytics game in the physical shopping realm, leveraging new technologies such as AI, cloud and robotics to not just enrich the customer cross-channel experience but dramatically improving operational execution and the employee experience as well. At a time of growing concern over how technologies such as AI and robotics will negatively affect the retail workforce, that last point is a welcome revelation.


And even though cultural and political security and privacy issues may be preventing American retailers from matching some of the more leading-edge innovations currently deployed in Asia, there’s no doubt leaders such as Walmart, Kroger, Home Depot, Gap, Kohl’s and other traditional retailers in the U.S. recognize the in-store opportunity.


Looking beyond Amazon’s physical stores in America and toward Alibaba’s Hema superstores, JD.com’s connected stores and Ocado’s fully automated warehouses has provided inspiration for some U.S. retailers. Some are even forging new partnerships with these overseas leaders to accelerate their own brick-and-mortar and fulfillment capabilities.


The future of brick-and-mortar is here as industry leaders show the way

My hypothesis was crystallized as I reflected on NRF 2019 Big Retail Show. In previous years, my presence at NRF was typically tethered to a booth or precisely scheduled customer and partner meetings. The overwhelming nature of “Retail’s Big Show” has often left me wondering about how much I missed, or how I would have liked to focus on just one business area to gather a more in-depth perspective.

With that in mind, my journey in NRF 2019 was decidedly different – with a keen focus on how data and technology can enable brick-and-mortar (people and processes) to drive business improvement and strategic differentiation.


Here are three takeaways that left me convinced brick-and-mortar can (once again) be a powerful competitive differentiator for traditional retailers – and why the time for all retailers to act is now:


No. 1: Enhancing Operational Excellence

Perhaps we have finally reached a tipping point for solving age-old in-store business improvement opportunities thanks to AI. Just consider two high-value use cases.

The industry has been grappling with out-of-stocks and merchandising execution for decades, showing lackluster progress. But now there’s streaming video data and computer vision, providing real-time updates on in-store out-of-stocks, shelf, display, pricing and promotional execution – at the individual item and store level.


And price transparency is now a retail competitive reality thanks to dynamic pricing and electronic shelf labels (ESLs), which are capable of delivering instantaneous pricing and promotional actions to individual stores.


No. 2: Enriching Customer Experiences

Steeped in new insights and performance measurements from online store fronts, emerging technologies are now enabling similar insights for retailers in-store. Understanding customer dwell times, conversion, purchase paths and so on now provide shopper insights and engagement opportunities for brick-and-mortar operations as well.


No. 3: Empowering the Front Lines

I was immeasurably inspired at NRF 2019 to hear success stories from young, fresh-thinking CEOs of point solutions such as Zipline and Shyft – as well as retail leaders such as Gap and Lush – who are reimagining workforce management. Using next-generation WFM solutions to streamline tasks and improve communications with tools better aligned with a millennial and mobile workforce not only makes sense, but also appears to be paying off.



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