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Retail and Logistics Experts Discuss the Future of Commerce at Walker Sands Panel

Alex Yeadon

Alex Yeadon

On Wednesday we hosted a panel of experts to discuss key findings from our 2018 Future of Retail report at Walker Sands’ HQ in Chicago. The panel, titled The Future of Retail Is Beyond Retail, featured a group of retail and logistics experts, including Scott Webb, President of Avionos, a Chicago-based digital experience company; Lauren Freedman, Founder of the e-tailing group, focused on research in the retail and logistics space; Jim Okamura, Partner at McMillan Doolittle, a retail consultancy; and Erin Jordan, Senior Account Director, Partner at Walker Sands and author of the annual Future of Retail report.

The panelists kicked off the night with a discussion on where they have seen the biggest changes in the industry over the past five years. Some of the most notable changes mentioned were the mobile takeover, consumers’ comfort level in giving out personal information and the increasing desire for convenience in shopping. In addition to the changes we have already seen, here are some highlights from the night about the direction retail is moving in the near future:

  • Online vs. In-Store Experience – The perception of saving time and money is one of the major draws of Amazon. However, Scott Webb stated “It wasn’t Amazon that killed retail – it was the existing in-store experience that killed retail,” highlighting the inconvenience and effort it often takes to go to a physical Audiencestore. An audience participant argued that the experience people look for when buying online and shopping in-store are very different and, in the future, the most successful stores will be able to marry the two.
  • Amazon Go Stores – The new cashierless Amazon Go stores are fascinating to consumers as they promise more convenience and speed with little to no human interaction. However, retailers were warned of trying to copy this model because Amazon is a tech company and doesn’t follow the same retail economy rules. At the very least, it was predicted that the existence of Amazon Go stores will push retailers to figure out ways to make their in-store experiences faster and more convenient.
  • Voice-Controlled Devices – 39 percent of people who own a voice-controlled device now own at least two, showing that people are becoming more comfortable relying on these devices in many different areas of their lives. Erin Jordan and Scott Webb believe that voice-controlled devices are acting as a transitional stepping stone that will lead us to higher efficiency, without the physical device, in other ways of life. They predict a future where voice technology is integrated into every aspect of our homes, making purchasing commodities and other everyday tasks much more efficient.
  • Recommendations – The general consensus was that the retailers who will continue to find success are the ones with high quality in-store experiences with employees who are fully educated on the brand and knowledgeable about the value of their product. Service is important because it helps to build trust which then leads to an increase in brand loyalty. Specifically cited as examples of companies currently doing this exceptionally well were REI, The North Face and Glossier. Lauren Freedman’s advice to consumers who don’t want to see the retail world go completely digital is to “support the people [and companies] that know the product.”Lauren Freedman2

The discussion predicted a future where brands will try to take control of the purchase channel and go directly to the consumer. However, Jim Okamura pointed out the difficulty brands will face in this feat as they haven’t had experience navigating the complex world of retail on their own. And while Erin Jordan anticipates advancements in voice commerce providing a more fluid way of life when buying commodities, she and Lauren Freedman believe a split will happen between consumers who will still be looking for the classic, but elevated, in-store experience.

Mirroring the discussion from the panel, our 2018 Future of Retail report revolves around connected lifestyles, the expansion of Amazon, the dramatic rise of voice and the need for supply chain optimization, essentially showing that the future of retail goes beyond retail. You can download the report here for a more in-depth look.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this event! We enjoyed discussing how factors beyond retail are shaping the future of commerce with the brightest industry leaders in Chicago, and we look forward to seeing you at another Walker Sands event soon!