Editor's Perspective

The editors of Retail TouchPoints spend most of their waking hours exploring, learning and studying every aspect of the retail industry. To that end, they are bringing their unique insights and outlooks to a special Editor’s Perspective column each week on the RTP site. The pieces could include personal experiences, new takes on the latest world news, or a different look at how technologies may impact the future marketplace.

H&M Hoodie Debacle Made Worse By Brand’s Slow Response

H&M came under heavy scrutiny earlier this month for an advertisement image placed on its UK web site, showing a black child wearing a green sweatshirt with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle” on the front. The misstep sparked outrage at the company for the perceived racist overtones, and there were even protests at some H&M stores in South Africa. As if the post itself wasn’t bad enough, the retailer actually may have made it worse by not taking it down until after the deluge of complaints came in.

Listen Up! 3 Retail Podcasts With Something To Say

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018 — albeit easy to accomplish — is to listen to more podcasts. Whether they’re simply just for fun or for editorial purposes, I resolve to listen more and hear what influential people in the world have to say about important topics. I watch more TV than I’d like to admit so it will be refreshing to shut my eyes and digest content in a new way. I know podcasts aren’t necessarily a new thing. They’ve been around for quite some time, but they’ve skyrocketed as a content format in the past two years — thanks to Serial. The good news is people are listening! 2017 research from Edison revealed that 40% of Americans (age 12+) said they have listened to a podcast.

Retail 2008 To 2018: A Decade Of Revolutionizing The ‘How’ Of Customer Engagement

I’ve been covering the retail industry for a long time. In one of my first jobs out of journalism school, I worked for a magazine called Giftware Business, then I moved on to Private Label Product News and — fast-forward to the age of digital-only — I eventually landed at Retail TouchPoints (RTP). Now heading into the 10th year of publication for RTP, I thought this would be a good opportunity for a bit of reflection. So, I looked back at my digital folders containing articles from 2008 and, not really surprisingly, I found a lot of similarities between the topics we covered 10 years ago and the topics we’re focused on moving into 2018.

Why I Love Self-Service (And Could Learn To Love Chatbots)

It’s ironic that I write about technology because in many ways I am the quintessential late adopter. Friends and family have long mocked me for my belated embrace of the latest gadgets, gizmos and services throughout the years. (Confession: I still listen to music on CDs.) However, years of using ATMs, self-checkouts at supermarkets and self-service ticket machines at airports have won me over, or worn me down. Now chatbots are the latest wave in self-service, and they are gaining ground. A recent survey indicated that 55% of American consumers are becoming more accepting of chatbots in mobile and online customer service. The use of chatbots by the Mall of America seems like a strong indicator that they are going mainstream (though it’s nice to note that there are human concierges to serve as backup for the bots).

Digital Signage, Mobile Integration Enhance The Tusk Store Experience

On Nov. 1, I had the opportunity to travel to the Tusk store in New York City to visit the ComQi Pop-Up NYC Digital Signage Experience. The various technologies integrated throughout the store include beacons, large LED and LCD video walls and touchscreens, shelf edge displays, a visible light communication (VLC) device from LinkRay and RFID “tap and teach.” These are all technologies that companies often display on a trade show floor, but it was a breath of fresh air to see the hardware all working within a few square feet, and in conjunction with actual products — namely leather handbags and wallets.

What Makes The Beauty Industry So Successful? One Word: Inclusivity

With so many retailers struggling these days, I can’t help but notice that the beauty industry continues to thrive. The New York Times reported earlier this year that “prestige beauty sales in the United States rose 6% in the 12 months ending in February, tallying $15.9 billion, according to the market research company NPD Group. Makeup alone is up 11%, totaling $7.3 billion.” Sephora and Ulta are killing it, celebrities are launching beauty brands that sell out in under three hours, and beauty/influencer collaborations are becoming more common. It’s clearly a great time to be in the beauty industry. I believe there are many factors contributing to the success of beauty companies, retailers and brands. For one, they invest heavily in content that connects with consumers. The beauty influencer community and content on social media are some of the best I’ve ever seen. In 2016, beauty-related content generated more than 55 billion views, according to Statista. Additionally, as of June 2016, there have been more than 5.3 million beauty videos published on YouTube. That’s just video, but you get the picture.

Customer Service Really Is The Key To Customer Happiness

Last week I had the opportunity to Chair the Retail Day at the GITEX Technology event in Dubai, UAE. It was a unique experience in many ways, but there was one takeaway that I could not get out of my mind during my stay at the JW Marriott Marquis — not just because it is the “tallest hotel in the world.”   The staff at the JW went above and beyond every moment of every day, in the most genuine way. They sincerely seemed to want to know what they could do to make my stay better, provide a better experience and help in whatever way possible. So much so that I concluded that I probably would not complain about a lot of issues I might complain about in a U.S. hotel, restaurant or store.

Will The Amazon Acquisition Be Good For Whole Foods?

Look, I understand why Whole Foods agreed to be acquired by Amazon — the traditional grocery industry is taking a beating from all sides. Competition from non-grocery retailers, new technologies and strategies designed to meet the demands of today’s time-starved shoppers are taking over, including: Subscription Meal Services; Online Grocery Ordering & Delivery; Curbside Pickup; and Big Box stores getting into the grocery game. But being swallowed up by Amazon can be good news and bad news. While price-cutting may bring in some additional shoppers in the short term, the Amazon way of not making a profit could severely hurt Whole Foods in the long run.

Q&A: How ‘Corporate Culture’ Became A Bottom-Line Issue

When it’s placed alongside more concrete assets like real estate, on-hand inventory and a healthy marketing budget, “corporate culture” can seem like a wimp. Certainly it’s nice to have a positive corporate culture, but what does it really add to the bottom line? Let’s look at it another way: how harmful is a negative corporate culture? The answer is: a lot. And Steven Blue, President and CEO of Miller Ingenuity and a recognized expert in business transformation and innovation, says (in effect) that the fish stinks from the head — that it’s the CEO’s job to create a positive corporate culture, and it’s his or her fault if that culture becomes toxic.

3 Steps To Mobile Mastery: Grab Attention, Leverage Influencers, Integrate Smart Devices

During my visit to the Button TAP Conference last week, I came away with three major takeaways that I feel retailers should understand, regardless of how seasoned they are in creating engaging mobile experiences: Retailers only have three seconds to reel the shopper in on the phone; Influencers are a necessity to gain brand loyalty and boost followers, especially as major players offer similar products; and Mobile apps and content can be tremendous assets that add value to smart devices and other products. 3, 2, 1 — Gone Shoppers are demanding a shorter journey from discovery to purchase, and this couldn’t be more relevant for the mobile consumer. Sarah Personette, VP of Global Business Marketing at Facebook, shared that 40% of mobile web site visitors leave at three seconds of delay. “Reimagine mobile, and in particular mobile ads, as shoppable storefronts,” said Personette. “Secondarily, think about how many clicks it takes to get to a purchase, and take at least one out. If you’re at three clicks, and you can optimize for one, that will absolutely improve your experience. Test where your buy button is. Is it intuitive? Is it in the right place? Taking these simple actions will actually help build your business and also create a better pathway…

Whole Foods Becomes Lab For Amazon To Test Pricing Strategies

Even for a company that routinely generates big headlines, Amazon made quite a splash with its purchase of Whole Foods in June. The retailer got even more attention when it lowered prices on key items at the grocer-formerly-known-as-“Whole-Paycheck” in late August. But Amazon is after more than just a public relations spike, or even the 25% customer traffic increase that it generated, according to Bloomberg. What Amazon got from buying Whole Foods was a real-world testing lab for its pricing strategies. This strategy could be a boon for competing retailers, which have traditionally had difficulty tracking the multiple price changes Amazon is capable of making online. Moving its price changes into the open air of a supermarket, where they are by nature quite visible, could give competitors a clearer view of the e-Tail giant’s tactics.

The Home Depot And Google Voice-Activated Shopping: A Not-So-Odd Couple

When Walmart partnered with Google Home in August, it added competition to a voice-activated shopping market that Amazon and its Alexa service had largely dominated. While it was only a matter of time before another major retailer entered the voice-shopping mix, The Home Depot was one of the last companies I expected to make this jump so soon. Yet the retailer’s larger-than-expected e-Commerce presence, which drives shoppers to pick up an astounding 43% of their online transactions in a store, shows that the technology may be the right fit for the brand after all. On the surface, The Home Depot wouldn’t seem like a spot where voice activation is necessary. The retailer has been one of the few major traditional merchants to experience continued growth in recent years, reporting its highest revenue ever in Q2 2017. Comparable store sales growth (6.3%) blew past expectations (4.9%), while earnings per share ($2.25) also beat initial estimates ($2.22). That all adds up to a brand that has been doing quite well without needing to integrate the newest, flashiest (and often overhyped) technologies.

Win Millennials’ Hearts: 6 Things Retailers Can Learn From Glossier

We’ve written endless stories about successful and innovative retail companies disrupting the industry here at Retail TouchPoints. Yet in my humble opinion, none of them quite compare to the cult-favorite beauty brand Glossier. As a Millennial consumer, I’ve been a fan of Glossier — founded by 32-year-old Emily Weiss — since its inception in 2014, and not just for its uber-cool makeup and skin care products. No, it was the community Weiss built through the brand (as well as her original venture, a beauty web site and blog dubbed Into The Gloss) that really caught my attention.

Post-Merger Culture Clashes Can Imperil Innovation

The very nature of a successful startup is that it offers something different from the status quo. That difference can be in the products it makes, the technology it uses — even the way it advertises and sells a boring commodity item. The cheeky advertising campaigns used to promote Dollar Shave Club were a big factor in the company’s being taken over by CPG giant Unilever in a billion-dollar deal. But that takeover/merger/acquisition can also be the beginning of the end for what made the startup unique in the first place. The very things that made the company attractive to bidders can be crushed by corporate conformity. It’s a particular problem in the retail industry, where brands operate very much in the public eye, and where customer loyalty can hinge upon the startup company’s sometimes expensive commitment to customer care, or its offbeat sense of humor.
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