“Everything you can imagine is real.” Pablo Picasso
Everything we can imagine about retailing can become real. Usually, it is the unexpected that grabs our attention. It even drags some retailers kicking and screaming into that unknown future. However, the lesson not yet learned is that change is now constant. Unbelievably there is still resistance and denial. Oh, I should also mention that many are still making the mistake of following only one idea or theory. Retailing is everything you can imagine; humans (retailers and consumers) can imagine a lot that's why this industry is so dynamic.
Personal Log: Ai addiction will make us dumber
Everyone is trying to harness the power of artificial intelligence. A recent survey by McKinsey & Company showed how more and more employees use it at work and as are companies. None of this should come as a surprise. We all want to be current; I know of many people who have just signed up with ChatGPT, and they are blown away. One person told me that they had it create code for a game. Of course, there is no question that everyone is employing it in some way, and if you are not, you may risk falling behind...maybe.
The risk is that we could be so dependent on Ai that it can become an addiction and, worse, a crutch. If someone were to pull our Ai assistant or companion from us, we could crash at work. You see, Ai dependence could lead to us losing our ability to create and think for ourselves. You may believe that you have great ideas and that you are only asking the Ai application for assistance; however, as these machines become more powerful, the risk of being trapped in our reliance is absolute. Humans risk becoming weaker when it comes to idea generation and the ability to create; their addiction factors in this as much as there are opportunities to shine. However, the question is whether you or the machine deserve the credit. Increasingly over time, as technology evolves to think more like humans, the machine will be the source of an organization's growth, not humans, because we will unlearn how to become creative and innovative. I will prove my point with an article on the Gap
What should the GAP do to revive its brand?
So, I asked ChatGPT to outline for me what is wrong with the brand today and what needs to change at the GAP and then create a sample advertisement. In this instance, it has access to the internet for current events and is able to draw from historical context. It knows of past issues related to the brand, CEO turnover and performance. I wanted something that aligned with how the brand should begin to see itself in the community. The machine came back with this as an advertisement.
My Human Response:
I don't know if this has been used in any of GAP's previous advertising. However, much of the suggested approach by the Ai application is not earth-shattering or game-changing. Nevertheless, all of this took seconds to produce. It is also interesting that the Ai application chose the tried and proven path of retailing and marketing, trying to reconnect personalities of the modern day to the GAP Brand. Again not earth-shattering but creative, and with the right direction and prompts, it can create work faster than we can. Is this what the Gap will do? Uncertain. However, our dependency on Ai and the risk of redundancy increases daily. With each company we hear about layoffs, I read the news to see how much of it is driven by technology.
Last Retailer Standing: The truth about the future of retail
There are many theories out there on the future of retailing, many around technology. And if we could play back many of them, they were wrong. I even get a kick out of retail experts with no vocation or programming skills on the subject of Ai, claiming their absolute authority on the subject. Even with my executive education in Ai and robotics from MIT. The organizational papers I've written on developing company IT capabilities and owning a personnel agency that only dealt with programmers and data analysts. I still consider myself a novice. But I can use what I know from my retail operational experience to develop the ideal scenario that will embrace Ai and develop new organizational capabilities.
So let's be realistic about this...
Retailers need more "Sophisticated Customer Experiences" to survive. What does that mean? Consumers are becoming more sophisticated, aware of shifts in technology, style, design, economics, climate and social issues and how these things come together to change our lives. But when retailers don't offer a more sophisticated customer experience, it is like they are living in the past. What are some of these elements that lead to retailer sophistication? And as we go through this list in brief, think of Ai, Chatbots, Personal Ai Assistants, Virtual Reality, Speed of Execution, Competitive capabilities responding to changes in the market and competitive offers.
Personalization: This should be at the top of everyone's list.
Omnichannel Consistency: When messages and methods of communicating are inconsistent, consumers get confused by the brands shifting purpose.
Technology Integration: The smoother and easier it is to use the technology a brand deploys, the better; (Ai, virtual reality, and chatbots).
Efficient Customer Service: Customers want continuity of service and consistency in their relationship with you. If they've shopped you before, "hello Guys, what brings you in today" is an insult. Welcome back is a better remedial start.
Immersive Experiences: Workshops, interactive demos, and lounges for product exploration redefine what it means to go "shopping; this is definitely an opportunity.
Emotional Connection: Is your brand story a living, breathing story, or are you the only one that knows of it?
Community Engagement: It is a great way to build loyalty and trust.
Climate Change & Sustainability: Get over it. There is Climate Change. Be a part of the solutions and tell your customers how you plan to make a difference. And then prove you are.
Is Retailing an Art?
Well, of course, it is. It always has been an art. From the very beginning of modern human bartering and trading, they saw beyond the utilitarian aspects of what they bought. The travelling caravans, ancient merchant bazaars, old trading posts, and general stores were all about what was new, from apparel to furniture. It wasn't just the experience it was about the customer's experience with the product. As we became more sophisticated, the art of retailing took on a whole new level of experience in service, displays and even fashion shows in department stores. Every display was a work of art; merchandising and window displays were powerful works of art. So Retailing is an art. It always has been that it isn't new. In 2021 I asked if the future of retail Art, Aspirational or Ai in Chapter 26 of my book, the New Bricks & Mortar Future Proofing Retail; the short answer is that retailing will be all of these things and more incorporated to draw you and me into their stores, social media and e-commerce platforms. We, humans, want to feel the emotional aspiration that a great retail environment has to offer. We need to feel that there is hope and happiness in our futures. And unless retailers can create and deliver that they will miss the greatest opportunity that is before them.
To conclude, the art and aspirations within retail begin with a sophisticated customer experience. I recently put together a new presentation for retailers and service companies. I am introducing "Things I Learned Leading People And Brands." There is a comprehensive list of presentations many organizations would benefit from. In particular to this discussion, I offer "Five Steps To A Sophisticated Customer Experience." For more information, contact me at email@example.com
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