It’s easy to get swept up in the retail apocalypse narrative. With historic retailers like Toys R Us and Sears shutting their doors after more than 100 years in business, and reports of “sad Santas” in empty malls, it’s hard to not take a rather dim view of physical retail’s prospects at present.
However, that glass-half-full view isn’t warranted, Visa’s Global Head of Innovation and Design Mark Jamison told Karen Webster, and is based on a view of commerce that is too myopic. The retail environment is changing, and profoundly so, but the “retail apocalypse in the headlines” is not something the team at Visa sees as borne out by what’s happening on the ground.
“This year, 2019 will likely be the first season that [holiday spending] will top $1 trillion,” Jamison explained. “I also think this is the first year where we [have seen] a real omnichannel approach by retailers [happen] at scale. [What we see is that] the firms that are winning are taking [this] omnicommerce approach.”
An approach, he said, that has many variations on that theme: line-busting tech in the store, beacons, smart digital clothes hangers that signal popular items online or rich loyalty offerings. The methods vary, but the goal is similar, which is to offer consumers a faster, more efficient, more secure and more pleasant shopping experience.
“Omnicommerce has become commerce,” Jamison remarked.
Time Is The New Coupon
Today’s consumers are, by far, the most educated shoppers in the history of retail — simply because of the volume of information they have at their fingertips, and the number of options they have for where to buy what they need.
Once upon a retail day, consumers went to the store — or they went online and shopped. Now, mobile and connected devices blur those lines. Consumers can buy online and pick up in-store, or order in-store and have it delivered to their doors — and there are many permutations on that theme.
“Time has become the new coupon,” he said. “Finding it fast and being able to have it in the way [that consumer] wants it is the ticket that consumer wants punched. That means that retailers have to be prepared for anything.”
It’s one of the reasons Jamison believes the physical store has an advantage that digital commerce simply can’t match — the direct personal touch.
A shopper in a store, he noted, is “there for a reason.” There is an intent to buy. That consumer could have purchased online, but they made the visit to the store. That reason might be the products themselves — and the ability to touch, feel and try on — or it might be for the social experience of shopping with a friend.
For physical retail to turn that intent into a purchase, the model must shift to one where service becomes a much more critical element of that in-store experience.
“Research shows that most big-box store customers think they know more about the products in the store than the people working there 83 percent of the time,” Jamison said. “Technology can help retailers [give their] team members the tools to create the personal connections in the store that move the role from sales clerk to trusted retail advisor — and across all of the channels [customers] shop with that store.”
Tapping The Power Of Trust For AI Technology’s Next Leap Forward
Payments are, perhaps, the unsung hero in enabling these commerce experiences, Jamison said, given their ubiquity and ease of use across any channel that a consumer wishes to shop. The payments experience may differ from channel to channel, but the underlying payment method is what gives consumers the confidence that making a purchase using those credentials is also safe and secure.
In addition, he said, it’s trust and confidence that will help accelerate the rapidly expanding horizon of voice and voice-activated commerce. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) — though often at risk of becoming buzzwords themselves — are making advances that are dramatically expanding what kinds of commerce experiences consumers will be able to leverage with voice — perhaps the most universal payments enabler.
Jamison said Visa is seeing AI advances track, with a growing interest on the part of consumers and retailers in using voice to initiate transactions, which he said is bimodal.
On the one hand, he noted, voice and voice commerce tech is, in some ways, a technology designed by millennials for millennials — in the sense that all experiences need to be mobile and social. However, since the user experience is built around an incredibly natural human behavior (talking), he and Visa have also observed a “reverse adoption curve,” given the growing number of older users who are favoring voice.
“We are seeing retirement communities adopting voice because it is so easy to use,” Jamison said. The old cliché about the grandparent calling up the grandchild for tech support is no longer a cliché. Now, they can ask the tech directly — “Siri, FaceTime Mark,” and a few minutes later, they are talking to their grandchildren.
No big change in behavior required, but a much better experience delivered.
If one is looking into the crystal ball for what’s next in 2019, Jamison said, it’s that better experience that will be critical to watch — as customers increasingly build customized and specific shopping routines across channels that suit their needs.
It probably won’t look like massive shifts from an outside perspective because consumers mostly aren’t looking to radically reset their habits. It will look like a series of customizations and improvements — meant to make it easy for customers to enjoy a single, unified shopping and paying experience, no matter where the commerce journey starts or ends.
“I think brands and retailers are finally understanding [that] consumers don’t care about channels. That’s not how they think about commerce. They think about how do I get what I want, how I want it, when I need it,” he said.