Moving at the Speed of Retail: Learnings from MIT Enterprise Forum

By : Tom Chittenden

May 14, 2018 12:00 PM

I recently had the opportunity to be a part of a panel hosted by the MIT Enterprise Forum in Atlanta – an organization dedicated to connecting and educating technology entrepreneurs, enabling them to bring industry-changing ideas into reality. During the course of the discussion, we covered a variety of the biggest topics in retail today – from the Amazon juggernaut, to the “new” loyalty, to labor optimization, and more. The three biggest takeaways that struck me focus on considerations that will impact the retail ecosystem in its entirety:


Retail moves fast – and it’s only getting faster. While it’s true that we’re in an era of unprecedented change in the industry, the pace will only get faster in the future. In fact, thought leader and technology speaker Jonathan MacDonald has said “Today is the slowest rate of change we will ever experience. And those who are the most adaptive to change stand the greatest chance to survival.” Our conversation certainly underscored this outlook: Business models in retail are evolving with incredible speed. Innovations such as machine learning and image recognition (which may have seemed like science fiction just a generation ago) are now making their way into the mainstream. Physical stores are starting to look and feel different and reflect changing buying habits and preferences. Being both flexible and anticipative will separate retail leaders and laggards and these trends continue to gain momentum.


It’s not (only) about technology. Flexibility, choice, service, and convenience are enabled by technology, but they are driven by consumer expectations and demands. Those of us on the MIT Enterprise Forum panel represented different aspects of the retail ecosystem, but what we could all agree upon is that shopper relationships and engagement are at the heart of success in this industry. Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and similar capabilities don’t mean anything without solving the biggest challenges retailers face today – which are rooted within the customer, not the technology stack. For example, the spotlight on data analytics stems from the need for understanding shoppers so retailers can meaningfully interact with them. Pricing consistency and omni-channel buying/returning? This is really about increasing customer satisfaction by serving a spectrum of shopping journeys.


Now is the time to get personalization right. Related to focusing on the consumer over technology is the importance of speaking to consumers as individuals, as this is the backbone of building long-term relationships with them. The age of the static coupon is gone, and winning retailers are thinking about “coupons” in a more comprehensive way. Offers are now an avenue for retailers and their shoppers to exchange value (data) for value (relevant discounts, promotions, exclusive access, etc.), creating a two-way conversation that becomes more personalized and appreciates over time.


It was a thought-provoking discussion and challenged all of us to think about technology and the changes around us in new ways and from new angles. I am thrilled to have been invited to participate in this discussion and look forward to more dialogue around what others are seeing in our industry.


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Tom Chittenden

Vice President and General Manager – NCR Retail Solutions

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Tom leads the strategy and direction of the company’s retail business solutions worldwide, spanning the Food & Drug, Mass Merchandise, Petroleum & Convenience, and Department/Specialty segments. Prior to joining NCR, Tom held solution leader roles in numerous capacities within retail at GE, Wayne Fueling Systems and VeriFone.