Retail Tech Decade In Review: 2017February 22, 2020
In 2017, Artificial Intelligence hit retail hard – it was the first year that it moved from fringe “future of technology” on retailers’ radar to mainstream consciousness. A few reasons why it hit the mainstream this year: Amazon’s Alexa rose to fame and fortune off of a few wild news stories, like a case where Alexa allegedly called the cops in response to domestic violence happening in a home (it didn’t, but still, somehow the police were notified to come), and the infamous doll house purchase, where a six-year-old accidentally purchased a doll house and a tin of butter cookies. That was bad enough, but a San Diego news station, in playing the story, accidentally caused hundreds of in-home Alexas attempt to do the same thing.
Amazon was heavy on people’s minds in 2017, not just because of Alexa, but because of acquiring Whole Foods and launching Amazon Go.
This year was also the year that Microsoft’s Tay, an AI-driven chatbot, went from bubbly teenager to foul-mouthed Nazi racist in less than 24 hours. And customer service in general was on people’s minds, after the infamous United passenger removal incident, and McDonald’s took on Rick and Morty – and lost, with a poorly executed promotion of Szechuan Sauce.
My commentary from the year reflected all of this context, along with continued drumming around the future of the store and what retailers need to do to keep stores relevant. In chronological order…
Do you really believe that incremental investments in in-store technology, or even, heaven forbid, employee training is going to be enough to make stores as relevant to the shopping process as they were in 2001?
Ouch. The point of this comment: the changes coming to stores are far more than anything incremental can fix. But it did start opening up a debate that continues today: this may be very true of the flagship experience, but can main street stores effectively adapt to the changes we’ve seen in shopping behaviors? Is there a high-engagement model that can be implemented in main street stores?
For the retailers struggling to compete against Amazon, they need to think a lot more about what kind of personality and trust people are projecting on to services like Alexa. Increasingly, they may find they are not competing against some wacky bald guy and an internet behemoth. They are competing against Alexa, my kids’ favorite disembodied voice, who will always tell them jokes and find them the best songs to listen to.
Amazon was high on people’s minds in 2017 – even more so than usual –…