6 Digital Initiatives Shaping Retail

When it comes to evaluating a company's innovative initiatives it is best to examine the source and not get caught up in the hype. At the Retail Executive Summit, Forrester Research's Sucharita Mulpuru encouraged the retail executives in attendance to consider the source, expect the goods, and know the history of "the next big thing."

The VP and principal analyst highlighted her "Understanding the Innovate or Die" session with examples of organizations and/or innovations that were hyped up by those with a vested financial interest in their success. When her talk turned to Amazon's drones for example Mulpuru quipped "the biggest challenge that the Amazon drone has is gravity," referring to the impracticality of unmanned aircraft delivering online purchases anytime soon.

Mulpuru ended her presentation with six digital topics she sees as the biggest themes in retail today:

Big data. Retail is a business sector that can gleam large swaths of data from the general population. Mulpuru acknowledged that the collection of big data is not new — retailers have been doing it for decades and some of the smartest have been acting on the info for years.

Same day delivery. Mulpuru points to investors as the evangelists. Only companies with huge revenue streams can afford to invest in the service at this point — Amazon and eBay for example. The high costs of the service make it difficult to provide at low cost and still remain profitable.

Digital wallets. There are case studies for success — Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts —and customer interest in strong. Biggest challenge is that CIOs have a lot of other things on their plate right now with security in POS and EMV mandate.

Content driving commerce. The idea of supporting a commerce experience by leveraging editorial content is a case of diminishing returns according to Mulpuru. The only way to successfully generate revenue through content is with advertising.

Wearables. The numbers and statistics show a modest opportunity. The market it young and uncertain but industries such as hospitality are showing promise, due to the limited time use and specific purpose — i.e., the Disney Band.

Omnichannel. When there is demand there are results. Despite the overwhelming success of cross-channel initiatives there are still challenges. Endless aisle, in-store pickup, shop from store, inventory visibility, mobile POS all take time and significant investment to do right — if you are going to do it, it must be done right.