Editor's Note: Retail remains strong
What will retail look like in a decade? How about in five years? Even just one year down the road? The answer, of course, is that while we can offer many opinions, we truly do not know the future of the retail industry. This is an industry in a state of flux, with constant pressure from a lethal combination of online marketing and merchandising, changing consumer shopping patterns, and simply having the wherewithal to keep the business in the black. Even the most optimistic of analysts must have doubts.
As we meet again at The Breakers for the start of the last day of the four-day NACDS Annual Meeting here in Palm Beach, we all should understand that retail is going to survive, if only because consumers do not want it to go away anytime soon. Online shopping is great, but it will never completely replace the consumer’s desire to go out and shop around for product.
So, while the industry is going to survive in one way or another, it also extremely is clear that not all retailers are going to be around in a couple of years.
Pressure has never been as intense on individual retailers to stand out in a crowd as it is today. That is why such chains as Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, Walmart and Target — to name just some of the largest and most powerful — are spending big bucks on new strategies to ensure that they stay relevant with their fickle shopper base. The goal is to be enough to consumers that they will stay top-of-mind when it comes to deciding whether to go sit in front of the computer and order something or get into the car and drive down the street to the local store for their needs.
These retailers are the lucky ones. They are well funded, adequately staffed and sufficiently empowered to move forward, and, there is little doubt from this angle at least, that they will put all of their energies into making the right moves to ensure their survival.
What about the smaller players in the mass retail world? Will those regional supermarket chains, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest, have the same urge to diversify and implement new policies to keep the shopper coming through the door? More importantly, do they have the resources to make it work?
The unfortunate answer for some of them is maybe not. Even now, some of them almost desperately are searching for answers that may not be there on ways to stay relevant with a consumer base that is more and more demanding by the day. Frankly, some of these operations do not have the money or other resources to stay ahead of the curve in terms of merchandising and marketing to consumers.
That is not good news for an industry that always has thrived on diversity and competition. It also is not great news for the manufacturers that partner with retailers in the industry. Fewer companies eventually could mean less opportunity to get their products into stores and higher costs to earn that precious shelf space.
Yes, retail is at an important juncture. And, yes, there have been times in the past when people could have said the same thing, and the industry managed to not only survive, but also thrive. But today things are a bit different. Today, the pressure is not only coming from internal competition and changing consumer tastes. It is coming from new technologies that are making a difference.