Over the last few months, the headlines have been dire: Stores are dead. Malls are dead. Chain stores are dead. Retail is dead. Ecommerce is dead. Millennials are looking for experiences, not more stuff. Younger consumers prefer to rent, not buy clothing, accessories, etc. Amazon is eating retail. Ecommerce is unprofitable. Mobile commerce is… well, you get the idea.
While clickbait headlines scream gloom and doom about the future of retail, I just can’t believe that most or even much of a $5.5 trillion dollar industry is just going away. I refuse to believe that future generations won’t shop in physical locations or that all ecommerce will be done on just a handful of marketplace sites (e.g., Amazon or Walmart/Jet). Instead, I think that we are seeing a massive shift in what shopping means – and we’re at the very early part of that shift where stores/malls are closing, where ecommerce startups are shuttering or getting bought out at low valuations. And that makes it hard to be an optimist about the industry. But I am.
So what’s next for retail? Is it tech like chatbots, machine learning and AI? Hyper personalization? Drone delivery and instant gratification? Is it digitally native brands that do one thing extremely well? Is it disrupting the supply chain and making manufacturing easier, cheaper, more local and more environmentally friendly? Is it pop-ups and temporary space instead of stores with long leases? Or all of the above and more?
It’s early days to say what retail will look like in 10, 15 or 20 years. But I’m still actively investing in retail tech and ecommerce because change is coming and I want to be a part of it.
Consumers will keep spending – Amazon will take disproportionate share and much of the rest will be redistributed. The only thing retailers have to fear is undifferentiated products and service experience. For B2C see the rise of DNVBs. For B2B hotspots we like applied analytics, personalization and in store technology. Looking out into 2018 chatbots/”applied AI” will deliver strong ROI but maybe a little bleeding edge for now. B2B retail tech is massively underappreciated by many investors. Bankruptcies dont shrink the market for retail tech – spend shift to retail marketplaces (e.g. Amazon) reduces the market. That said most retailers are early in the adoption cycle and global retailers are even earlier. Ecommerce platforms have seen some adoption outside the US/UK but were bogged down by integrating with local tax, compliance and accounting systems. Current generation retail technology is frequently cloud based and location neutral – so look to see faster global penetration.