The 12 Grand Challenges in Retail

By Somak Roy July 16, 2019

There are 12 grand challenges to be overcome on the road to retail singularity. In a post singularity world, gratification is instant, customer knowledge is total, and commerce is invisible and ubiquitous. All gap between “I want this” and “I have it” have been plugged. Retail expands beyond the limited, retailer-defined catalogue. Customers articulate their vision of a product, and the production and retail machinery work to deliver on the customer’s vision. 

What follows are the 12 grand challenges, or more simply – what needs to happen to take our industry to the retail singularity.

1. Multi-channel commerce

The brand experience is consistent across channels, and transactions can straddle any combination of channels without friction. Technology, business, and cultural impediments to omnichannel commerce have been removed.

2. Unified customer data

The customer’s transaction, clickstream, demographic, social, affiliation, offline interest data are all at the same place, and linked to a single identity, enabling one-to-one personalisation.

3. Multichannel next-best-action

Data is consolidated, and machine learning-based algorithms are sophisticated to a degree that the next best action can be predicted at any stage with a high degree of accuracy.

4. Same-day delivery

Across much of the industrialised world, rural and urban, delivery of any SKU can be made in the same day

5. In-store video analytics

What aspects of the product and the store environment close a purchase is primarily science, and no longer mere art. Think Paco Underhill on steroids.

6. Conversational commerce

Transactions are made over intelligent agents such as Amazon Echo and Google Home as a matter of routine. Product research involving intelligent agents is as common as web search. 

7. IOT-enabled subscription commerce

Utility products are auto-renewed as sensors detect the need for replenishment. Consumers trust algorithms to make routine purchase decisions

8. Seamless social commerce 

Commerce is native on social networks. Checkout happens without leaving the social media environment. The site of demand generation is the site of fulfilment. 

9. The web as a giant ecommerce store

Browsers have built-in wallets; every search result page is a product listing page. Digital commerce expands beyond the individual retailer’s catalogue.  

10. Customers own their data 

A change in regulations awards ownership of data to customers, following which a blockchain-based platform emerges to host the history of a customer’s interactions with a multitude of retailers and brands.

11. Customers can articulate their vision of the desired product 

Customers are no longer passive players in the retail ecosystem, with choices limited to choosing from the retailer’s limited catalogue. The customer is a participant who can articulate her vision of what her ideal product needs to be. While creating this vision she can (with permission) access other customers’ data and collaborate with them. The production and retail machinery then kicks into action to deliver on the customer’s vision. Think of Etsy, if Etsy’s independent merchants had detailed customer data including their clearly articulated preferences. 

12. Sustainability and environmental impact is built into the retailer’s value proposition 

An empowered and enlightened customer understands the environmental impact of each purchase. She can meaningfully ascertain how her retailer scores on the sustainability of its operations, including running the store infrastructure, the supply chain network, product packaging, and waste reduction. She can also ascertain how her buying choices, such as split shipments, affect her carbon footprint. A critical part of retailer’s value proposition is how it bases its operations on alternative energy sources, environmentally-aware ethical sourcing, and innovative packaging material that can be reused and recycled – with the pathway to recycling built into the buying and delivery process. Sustainability becomes as important as price, service, quality, and delivery. Retailers devote a meaningful percentage of their research and development budget on the above, especially packaging.