Why Tech Matters in Retail

I’m headed to SF for a quick trip to NRFtech to emcee tomorrow morning’s session. Much of this year’s discussion will center on “why tech matters” in retail. Esteemed speakers from companies including Walmart, Lululemon, Sur la Table, and Brandless will cover everything from data-driven disruption to roadmap prioritization to my fireside chat about personalization with Sephora’s Chief Engineering Officer.

Why talk about why technology matters? It’s certainly not that technology in retail is brand new. Inventory solutions have been software-driven for decades, e-commerce is decades old, and even the iPhone is hitting its tween years.

So while the presence of technology isn’t new, the plethora of tools that exists and the pace at which those options expand is staggering. And growing every day if the headlines and our inboxes are any guide. 

This can be overwhelming because it raises a number of questions. What categories of technology are we even in the market for? Should we prioritize a content management system or AR/VR? How do we rationalize the case for fit tech on our product pages? Is analyzing store traffic patterns with heat maps worthwhile?

Regardless of how we answer those questions, we’re also in a time when technology is converging with everything else. This means data science has become an integral part of most marketing. And we can’t think about stores without considering how technology might optimize them, let alone how store and web or app sales are inextricably linked.

And this convergence can pose a lot of internal confusion. Who does what? What are we calling these new roles and where do they report? How do we budget investments and measure success? What are the new means of compensation?

Of course, at the end of the day, none of this matters if the efforts don’t land well on customers. More than ever, customers are engaging with our companies in various channels, with digital influencing the vast majority of sales. They’re judging our authenticity on social and they’re also trying to shop us there.

We have to talk about why technology matters because it matters not just more than ever before, but in more ways than ever before. And how companies make the resulting decisions will be what defines us.