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Technology. Friend? Or Foe?

To many independent retailers, technology is the antithesis of such time-tested business virtues as handpicked assortments, passionate sales proficiency, personal attention and an appreciative smile.

Amazon, by contrast, is a technology business. Technology enables every digital discipline in which it participates: Retail, logistics, marketing services, web services, entertainment and more. In the face of sales lost to impersonal, unedited e-commerce platforms that favor algorithms over merchandising, storeowners might view technology as a primary culprit.

Beyond that, new technology can be daunting and costly. As such, they might lament such digital advancement more than ever at a time when they need to embrace it more than ever and put it to work to their advantage. Investing in e-commerce, while possibly a necessary component of any store’s long-term success, can’t, by itself, offset the mounting influence of Amazon and other modern-day factors threatening to suppress the store traffic that remains the lifeblood for the independent operator.

The physical store for independents is the bedrock of their personalized approach to differentiate from bigger, cheaper, more convenient competitors. E-commerce is only effective as a long-term play for these retailers if it doesn’t marginalize their store business. Omnichannel is tossed around almost too casually these days as a cure-all for traditional retailers.

It is true, however, that small-business retailers confront an urgent need to find and use new technology to drive foot traffic and reinforce the unique store experience that has been instrumental to the independent channel’s historical place in the retail food chain… and is vital to its future.

This edition features a profile of Pointy, a startup digital platform that directs consumers searching for participating products to local stores where those products can be purchased. It’s sort of a Waze for gourmet kitchenware.

Pointy serves up, in theory at least, the type of best-of-both-worlds solution that lets independent retailers participate in progressive digital merchandising sought by today’s shopping generation while keeping stores at the focal point of the purchase process. For a channel that pioneered experiential retailing and rightfully touts its ability to teach, guide and demonstrate, independents can and should be early adopters of new technology that helps stir more in-store activity and excitement.

Imagine the possibilities, for example, of combining in-store demonstration with virtual and augmented reality applications that bring to life a blender in the absence of a power outlet; cookware in the absence of an oven; or even a spiralizer in the absence of a zucchini.

New technology comes with new expense and new risk. Don’t fear it. Embrace it. In today’s demanding retail arena, it’s better to make more friends than foes.

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