Three big technology trends that will make retailers do business differently—or die
Ecommerce goes everywhere
No, it's not 1997. Rather, ecommerce continues to proliferate. Fifteen years ago, ecommerce was birthing the first generation of online megastores. Some have thrived (Amazon.com); others died (Pets.com). Today's upstart retailers are venturing into more charted waters, gaining traction faster and assailing bricks-and-mortar retailers in categories once thought unassailable. That's forcing more stores, even small independents, to sell their products online. Consumer behaviour is amplifying the challenge. "Your website is now the place where consumers start comparing you with your competition, and often the place they go expecting to be able to make a purchase," says Mississauga, Ont.-based retail consultant Barbara Crowhurst. Luckily, online services such as Ottawa-based Shopify have made it both simple and inexpensive for retailers of any size to get into the ecommerce game.
Smartphones invade stores
According to Comscore, some 40% of digital-device users in Canada own a smartphone, and Nielsen reports that smartphones now outnumber cellphones as the most commonly used digital device in the U.S. But the proliferation of the smartphone has created an enormous challenge for retailers. Smartphone in hand, "showrooming" consumers now can stand in the aisle at one store and compare prices and availability for identical items at a competitor's store or any online retailer. To avoid losing those sales, retailers now must have instant access to as much, or more, information than their customers in order to exceed expectations.
Digital wallets open up
Yes, consumers now can make small purchases with a wave of their smartphone. And although significant security and platform unification issues have to be ironed out before the "e-wallet" achieves ubiquity, heavyweights such as Google, AT &T and Visa are positioning themselves to win the looming digital-wallet war. It's too early to tell whether the technology will be a boon or boondoggle for independent retailers. Either way, they'll almost certainly be forced to adopt it.