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Momentum 2024: A look at real time, AI and the 'new normal'

Blue mobile pin
Customers expect real-time product availability.

The recent Manhattan Associates Momentum 2024 conference provided expert insight into several critical retail trends.

The Manhattan Associates Momentum 2024 event in San Antonio featured the chance to attend sessions by and conduct interviews with executives from retailers including PacSun, Michaels, Brooks Bros., Floor & Décor and Lamps Plus about how they apply leading-edge technology to their omnichannel operations. 

While numerous topics of interest were discussed, three subjects kept coming up and are worth looking at more closely: Customer demand for real-time product information and delivery, artificial intelligence, and the “new normal” of omnichannel fulfillment.

Generation Blue Dot  

In his address at the opening general session, Eddie Capel, president and CEO, Manhattan Associates, discussed how the supply chain now has to operate in as close to real time as possible due to the needs of what he termed the “Blue Dot” generation.

As described by Capel, the "Blue Dot" generation has grown up accustomed to tracking things on their mobile phone with a blue dot. Specific items tracked include products purchased for pickup or delivery, rideshares, and nearby places of interest, such as stores or restaurants. 

All are digitally marked by a blue dot which tells the consumer exactly where something is and if applicable, how long until it reaches them. And a customer can make a blue dot appear at will by placing an order or query.

Any retailer whose supply chain does not align with the blue dot will find itself out of step with tech-savvy, connected shoppers of all ages that have grown accustomed to deciding what they want, locating it, and having it delivered to them within a day or two at most.

This alignment requires investment in interconnected, real-time solutions for order management, distribution, inventory tracking, merchandising, CRM and last-mile delivery, to name just some of the technology involved. Building a “blue dot” supply chain and communications infrastructure is not an easy or inexpensive task, but one that must be undertaken.

AI everywhere

One theme which ran throughout the conference was the ubiquity of AI, including leading-edge generative AI, in the retail enterprise. AI is streamlining and enhancing the accuracy and efficiency of processes ranging from customer service (with "smart" chatbots), to forecasting, to merchandising, to order management. 

Moving forward, AI will become even more entrenched in retail as the technology continues evolving at a rapid pace. For example, Shirley Gao, chief digital and information officer, PacSun, said in an interview at the conference with Chain Store Age that generative AI will likely allow the retailer’s customer service associates to simply type an order number and instantly receive an entire transaction history with a summary of all important events.

The 'new normal' was already here

Conventional wisdom holds that during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers forced to do most or all of their shopping online discovered the immediacy and convenience of omnichannel fulfillment options such as BOPIS and curbside pickup. 

According to this theory, after spending as much as a year or more selecting omnichannel fulfillment out of necessity, once consumers were able to return to stores without restriction, they still wanted services BOPIS and curbside pickup, leading to a “new normal” of connected stores.

And there is some truth to it. But in conversation after conversation with retail executives at Momentum 2024, a different reality regarding consumer preference for omnichannel fulfillment became apparent. As early as 2017-2018, many retailers were already implementing or strengthening programs like BOPIS and curbside pickup in response to existing consumer demand.

The pandemic served as an accelerant to the development of the "new normal," but it was developing anyway and would have taken hold within a year or two in any event. And considering that consumers have already been blending the digital and physical for their own convenience for many years, omnichannel fulfillment really isn’t that new and is definitely normal.

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