Retail buzzwords get a bad rap.
A buzzword is a word or phrase that evolves into a shorthand that’s used to convey something quickly and succinctly.
The problem is that buzzwords often grow in popularity and get co-opted. Over time, something that was once a handy word or phrase loses a bit of its meaning.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing—buzzwords evolve to suit better the needs of the people using them. The problem is when they get overused to the point of becoming cliché. And if you’ve been to any industry conference, or read any retail publication or blog in recent years, you’ve probably come across some of them.
Here Are 5 Retail Buzzwords We Hate
The grandaddy of all modern day retail buzzwords, “omnichannel” has existed in one form or another for easily a decade.
Essentially, it refers to how retailers should provide customers with a seamless end-to-end experience during the purchasing process, whether it’s in person at a brick-and-mortar store or online.
That’s not a bad goal to aim for. The problem is too many people throw the retail buzzword “omnichannel” around like it’s a magical phrase that automatically leads to more customers when, in reality, providing customers with an integrated customer journey shouldn’t be an exception to the rule, but THE rule in retail.
Delivering an “omnichannel” customer experience is no longer impressive; it’s expected. It’s time to leave this buzzword behind.
This phrase has been bandied about for a few years now, and with good reason: once marquee players in the retail scene like Walgreens, Gap, Toys “R” Us, Best Buy, Foot Locker, Sears, and, more recently, Payless ShoeSource have either gone bankrupt or reduced their store count to try and stay afloat in an ever-shifting marketplace.
But despite the headlines, it’s not all doom and gloom: NRF recently reported that total retail sales from November 2018 through January 2019 increased 2.6% compared to the same period a year ago, and total retail sales for 2019 are expected to grow as much as 4.4%.
Meanwhile, many retailers are purposefully shrinking their footprint to save money on rental prices and offer a more curated shopping experience. Kohl’s leased space to Planet Fitness earlier this year to make money on their already-existing stores and get more customers interested in their new athletic wear line, and IKEA and Target both continue to open small-format stores to capitalize on urban and college customers who can’t always access suburban big-box locations.
Retail isn’t dying, but the industry as we know it is changing, and there’s bound to be a few casualties along the way.
Retailers should spend less time blaming a supposed “retail apocalypse” and focus on boosting their in-store execution if they want to survive.
Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to find products that match your personality and interests, no matter how niche or unique they may be.
Still, too many retailers and brands take the easy way out when it comes to offering customers a personal, memorable experience.
So we don’t hate “personalization” as a buzzword, per se. But we do hate the businesses out there who think delivering a personalized shopping experience is as simple as providing in-store embroidery and monogramming on demand—that has as much personality as an iPod with “Music Is My Life” engraved on it.
Retailers need to look for novel approaches to keep customers interested that go beyond initials on a bathrobe, or cheesy engravings.
Stepping into a store shouldn’t feel like you’re stepping onto the set of Avatar, but many retailers who are looking to stay relevant in 2019 and beyond are increasingly investing in augmented reality to try and keep ahead of the competition.
Some retailers and brands are doing it right, like Wayfair and IKEA, which use augmented reality to create a 3D rendering of a customer’s home to make sure any furniture they’re looking to buy would actually fit and work with what’s already in their living spaces. (If I knew about that feature, I would have never made the mistake of buying one of these feline-friendly wall decoration sets earlier this year.)
But then, there are others who focus on fitting room simulators to help customers choose clothes and makeup without physically trying things on.
I get the trend: trying on clothes is a pain, and in the case of makeup, can even be unhygienic. But when customers don’t get the true fit and feel of a product, that leads to more returns down the road.
Don’t get me wrong: augmented reality is cool, but not when retailers use the retail buzzword as a guide for their future to distract from the fact that their in-store execution is suffering in other ways.
We’re still a few years off from the widespread adoption of augmented reality by brands due to its technological limitations and overall outrageous price points. Until then, retailers should stick with creating downright memorable in-store experiences in ways that don’t rely on technology that isn’t fully realized yet, and leave buzzwords like “augmented reality” to the movie studios.
Many retailers and malls can’t get enough of artificial intelligence.
Like Pepper, a humanoid robot designed to give customers directions to stores, restaurants, and attractions based on a customer’s current location in malls.
And Marty, a six-foot-three-inch googly-eyed monolith that detects and cleans up grocery store spills. (If I saw one of those coming down the aisle, I’d drop my orange juice in a panic.)
Don’t get me wrong, artificial intelligence is going to play a significant role in retail going forward, but more when it comes to the operations side of things. Many large-scale retailers are looking at ways to use machine learning to predict future maintenance problems for POS systems and other repairs, and companies like Coca-Cola are using AI to know when restocks in certain vending machines need to take place.
But customer-facing AI feels more like a flight of fancy than the future of retail. And really, why invest millions in a robot that may never come off the assembly line when you can train store associates the right way to create a better shopping experience today.
Predicting store needs may be the future of retail, but using “artificial intelligence” in a sentence when describing your business or brand’s supposedly innovative plans makes it sound like you’re stuck in the past.
Following the pack only gets you so far in retail.
To truly stand out, businesses need to focus less on what others are doing (and saying about their stores), and more on their main mission as a retailer or brand: delivering an exceptional shopping experience that customers can’t find anywhere else.
After all: actions speak louder than words.