The Columbus Chamber's Aug. 8 Retail Summit brought together more than 300 industry professionals who are quite sure retail is not dead.
Confession: I love shopping on the internet. I’m all for buying local and all that, but I loved having my groceries delivered the one time I tried it (great, except the shopper grabbed parsley, not cilantro). I rejoice every time I put a dress or some shoes into my online cart. The whole experience is so much better than driving through traffic to a crowded shopping center and searching through racks of clothes I don’t really like, none of which fit me. On the internet, inventory is practically limitless and I can buy two sizes, trying them on in the privacy of my bedroom to see which works better.
To a kid who was traumatized by the annual back-to-school shopping trip, the advancements we’ve made with technology in retail are an absolute delight. They help not just the shopper but also the merchant, which can now conduct virtual walk-throughs of stores under development hundreds of miles away. As was shared at the Columbus Chamber’s annual Retail Summit at The Point at Otterbein Aug. 8, where I moderated two panels, we’re just getting started.
Imagine being able to use virtual reality to try on a piece of clothing and know whether it was going to work before you bought it, never having to visit a store. What if you could walk down an “endless aisle” filled with the lighting fixtures of your dreams while sitting on your sofa? These experiences are still the stuff of the imagination, but we’re closer than you might expect.Stay up to date with the region’s movers and shakers, top employers, philanthropic causes, real estate developments and thriving creative and startup scenes. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.
The Columbus region is a retail powerhouse, and companies here have developed a reputation for innovating in logistics and ecommerce. The talent ecosystem of people who used to work at one of our major retail employers—L Brands, DSW, Big Lots, Abercrombie & Fitch—has spawned a vast network of entrepreneurs and service providers, and they stayed in Columbus. Designers, technologists, real estate professionals, executive recruiters and more were represented at the Retail Summit. You can see photos from the day in the slideshow with this story. (retail summit connections slideshow)
One of my panelists was Columbus-based Lindsay Fork, who is owner with her husband of five La Jeune Mariee and LuxeRedux bridal stores, and has launched the Luxe in a Box mail-order service.
Anyone who’s ever shopped for a wedding dress knows just how painful the experience can be, mostly because we go in with such high expectations, right? But also because the industry is in large part still very old-world. Things are made and fitted by hand. More spontaneous brides can only hope to find something that works off the rack.
On another panel was Dave Cherry, a Columbus-based executive strategy consultant for the retail world, where he has spent 25 years with major brands including L Brands, Polo Ralph Lauren, Disney and more.
“Retail is dead,” he says. The Customer Experience Industry has replaced it. What does he mean? Customers now compare every brand interaction with every other one, creating a hierarchical “who is best” framework of experience. If you’re not as good as the last company in anticipating a customer’s needs, serving them, treating them like family, it’s not good for you. Everyone is competing not just in their own industry, but with everyone else, everywhere.
I’m not sure if this is a good thing, but I’m glad to be able to get out of back-to-school shopping.