“Omnitalking” with Chris Walton About Trends in the Retail Space
For about twelve years, Chris Walton held various management positions at Target. His last position was VP of “Store of the Future,” when he worked with his Co-CEO of Omnitalk, Anne Mezzenga. They started the Omnitalk venture in 2017, combining their 40+ years of retail experience to focus on game-changing trends in the retail space, focusing on three aspects of the retail experience:
- Digital (online shopping and in-store systems)
- Physical (store structure, inventory, etc.)
- Human (focus on both the consumer and the retail employee)
He felt that “white space” existed in the retail industry and an opportunity existed for innovative and thoughtful professionals to share their knowledge unbiasedly and collaboratively.
I recently caught up with Chris to discuss his main takeaways from Shoptalk and his predictions for the store of the future based on what he’s seeing.
Consumer convenience now drives the entire retail experience, according to Walton, who cautions that retailers need to avoid the “shiny penny syndrome,” adopting every new idea or technology they see without thoroughly analyzing how it serves the customer and their experiences at the retail level.
These are his top three observations and predictions:
- e-commerce is here to stay, and retailers must compete with online-only brands. This may require stores to expand their back rooms to stock more inventory or set-up local fulfillment centers to enable them to compete with online-only brands and deliver products to customers faster.
- BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in store) has not gone away post-pandemic. Retail locations need to consider parking lot and drive-through configurations to incorporate this option into the shopping experience.
- The in-store environment will be radically changed to incorporate new technologies that facilitate check-out and inventory and enable security. The humans working in those stores must be comfortable with technology and have great customer service skills.
These three areas will also have an impact on search. For example, consumers will seek out brands based on factors like speed of delivery, available inventory at a local store, and whether or not they can stay in their car to get what they want.
Ironically, the future store may actually be more like the store of the past — where customer convenience, inventory availability, and exceptional customer service can differentiate a brand. Powered by technology, retailers can now deliver the shopping experience that saves buyers time and money and builds brand reputation.
Walton wrapped up by stressing:
“The hallmarks of retail differentiation are brand, product, price, and convenience. All the innovation over the next decade will center on the last element — convenience. The other three will be business as usual.”