Living in retail’s digital theme park

Press enter to search
Close search
Open Menu

Living in retail’s digital theme park

By David Orgel - 04/20/2018
You can see that deer-in-the-headlights look on the faces of some retail executives.

Fast-paced digital disruption is having its impact.

Amazon-Whole Foods was the highest-profile wakeup call. However, it’s far from the only alert. A range of players are battling for advantage in this space — from ecommerce to digital marketing — all powered by new technologies. These include tech players like Google and Facebook, as well as such traditional operators as Walmart, Target and Walgreens.

Fear can be paralyzing to the retail industry.

Excitement, on the other hand, is contagious.

I felt excitement in hearing recent comments by Narayan Iyengar, the senior vice president of digital and e-commerce at Albertsons. At the Shoptalk conference, he was asked point blank why he decided to leave Disney about a year ago and come to ‘oh-so-glamorous grocery?’

“I’m here because this is where action is,” he asserted during the event’s Grocerytalk track (now being reintroduced as the Groceryshop show). “In the e-commerce and digital space, the next five or so years in grocery will have tremendous change. It’s very exciting and it’s all happening here.”

That’s contagious excitement, and Albertsons has already made some impressive moves. And to be clear, the excitement isn’t just for grocery, far from it. The same can be said for all retail channels, because they are being transformed by digital developments.

The key is to look at the digital battlefront from the high ground. That means getting out of the weeds and going hundreds of feet up.

What do you see? Using a Disney analogy, I see a new kind of theme park. Retail has become a digital theme park — there’s E-commerce Land, Digital Marketing World, Artificial Intelligence Village — and so on.

OK, maybe you say this sounds fairy-tale-ish. Or you maybe you think this isn’t your version of fun. Perhaps you don’t like the rides. But this is where the action is.

Plus, there’s really no choice. There are signs that e-commerce will move faster at retail than expected. Pure-play e-commerce companies are benefitting from access to data that’s more robust than physical-world data. Mobile marketing is proving itself as a retail star. Retailers are already offering case studies on how technologies ranging from augmented reality to machine learning have provided advantages for customer experiences.

No one knows how all this will play out. There’s no guarantee of a fairytale ending.

Nevertheless, this is once-in-a-career excitement. The trick is to feel more excitement than fear.

What does it mean to move forward in all this?

  1. Experiment, test, and learn. No one has all the answers;

  2. Pick your spots. You don’t want to battle Amazon across all its businesses;

  3. Don’t forget about the physical store. Digital strategies will help advance the store; and 

  4. Keep your focus consumer-centric. It’s best to be agnostic about platforms. Let the consumers decide.

It doesn’t even matter if a retailer embraces digital for the right or wrong reasons. There are cases in which retailers decided to switch to digital advertising and marketing because it saved money over print. That’s probably not the most visionary reason to go digital, but whatever gets you there is ultimately okay.

I see some incredible new senior digital talent being added to the traditional retail ranks. They are passionate. Tap into that excitement.

The point is, engage with this new digital theme park.

You can even learn to deal with the digital roller coaster.

David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker who was the longtime chief editor and content leader of Supermarket News. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries.