NRF 2015: Use tech to enhance the retail fundamentals

The rise of online pure-plays and the added convenience they have brought consumers has raised the expectations of shoppers worldwide, spurring traditional retailers to rethink their strategies – according to ex-Walmart US CEO Bill Simon.

Martin, who was speaking at the National Retail Federation's (NRF) Big Show in New York this week, also suggested that the industry is starting to see "inherent weaknesses" in eCommerce which have in turn drawn attention to the fundamental benefits of bricks and mortar retailing.

Success in the near future, he said, will be achieved by retailers that use new technology to help them get the core retailing processes right.

Although acknowledging that online retail will continue to grow, Simon suggested that it has reached a point where the true value of physical stores in the overall eco-system has become clear. It was also noted during the course of Sunday's keynote speeches at NRF's event that between 90-95% of sales are still conducted in a store environment.

Commenting on eCommerce, Simon said: "It lacks immediacy and sensory and emotional attachment you get from retail."

From a retailer's perspective, it is difficult to figure out how to make money from online retailing, he added.

The former Walmart exec, who left the world's largest supermarket group last year following a challenging four years at the helm, also described eCommerce as the new catalogue retailing, and said that pure-play retailers such as Amazon and eBay "have done a better job" of evolving the catalogue industry than stores have done in changing the shopping experience.

Judging by some of the presentations at this week's NRF Big Show in New York, multichannel retailers are beginning to understand they must combine the physical and the digital aspects of retail to please their customers.

"More and more as physical retailers begin – albeit a bit late – to come on board with the adaptation of technology into the physical platform, the inherent advantages the physical retailer has will come into play," Simon argued.

"Technology will continue to change retail. Those that innovate like the Levi's store get to stay around for 161 years, while those who don't need to find other businesses to get into. Retail is much more challenging than it's ever been before, but the universal truth has not changed in thousands of years – a merchant with a good product, providing a customer with a good service will sell."