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Reality check: Theories on the next retail revolution


BOSTON — Brian Kilcourse, managing partner for Retail Systems Research, took some time out at the Orgill Fall Market Friday to deliver a primer on mobile technology as a driving force in the contemporary retail environment.

The seminar, titled "The New Rules of Retail: How Today's Consumer is Changing the Game," positioned mobile technology as a harbinger of a giant "reset" in retail comparable to the Industrial Revolution and onset of the Information Age.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, Kilcourse identified the invention of the barcode as the onset of the Information Age, as well as the launch of the iPhone (versus the smartphone in general) as the dawn of what he calls the Participation Age.

"I didn't think we'd have another tech-driven reset moment in my career — but it happened," said Kilcourse. "We're being challenged by web and mobile, which caused a dramatic power shift away from the retailer and to the consumer. You can think of them as very demanding customers. They have the power of information at their fingertips."

Aside from the transparency and visibility brought about by mobile devices, Kilcourse cited the unprecedented amount of people now participating in the global economy via the various "digital tidbits" they leave behind that educate retailers on consumer motivations.

Another key theme was the importance of creating an environment that will allow consumers to make favorable decisions before they enter a brick-and-mortar store.

"We build our stores with the assumption that the consumer is an empty vessel when they enter it," he said. "All the value that is retail is put into those four walls, but decisions are being made outside your store. You can't have a salesperson approach them to help them make their decisions in a way that works in your favor. And that is why the power has shifted."

Kilcourse pointed out that despite the variety of channels used by consumers in their decision-making processes, only 5.6% of sales are actually made online.

One substantial takeaway was the imperative to thus create a dialogue outside the four walls of one's store with the intention to bring the consumer inside. Additionally, employees equipped with mobile technology can help consumers make choices while accessing the same information online.

Research collected by RSR consistently positions the successful stores as the ones that believe more strongly in the power of mobile technology. Additionally, more retailers are collectively recognizing the importance of mobile, with 47% citing multichannel customers as being "significantly more profitable" in 2013, compared to 38% in 2012.

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