Smart retail device in a retail store

5 Retail Buzzwords We Hate in Brick-and-Mortar

  • By Matthew Ritchie

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.

That’s all fair and good. 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.

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.

Look below to find five retail buzzwords we hate and never want to hear (or see) again.


Here Are 5 Retail Buzzwords We Hate



Omnichannel, the granddaddy of all modern-day retail buzzwords, 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 and instead focus on doing what it means.


Retail Apocalypse

The phrase “retail apocalypse” 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, Macy’s, Foot Locker, Sears, and 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 reported that total retail sales from November 2018 through January 2019 increased 2.6% compared to the same period before. (And in January 2020, NRF reported that retail sales grew 2.7 percent over the same month in the previous year.)

Meanwhile, many retailers are purposefully shrinking their footprint to save money on rental prices and offer a more curated shopping experience. In 2019, Kohl’s leased space to Planet Fitness 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 nailing their in-store execution to grow brand awareness and loyalty.



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 think that the businesses out there who think delivering a personalized shopping experience is as simple as providing in-store embroidery and monogramming on demand are a little behind the times.

Retailers need to look for novel approaches to keep customers interested that go beyond initials on a bathrobe, or cheesy engravings.


Augmented Reality

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 2020 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 3D renderings of customers’ homes to make sure any furniture they’re looking to buy would actually work in their living spaces. But then, others 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, especially for retailers and brands operating in a post-COVID-19 world. 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 and the inventions that come with it to distract from the fact that their in-store execution is suffering elsewhere.

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 experiences in ways that don’t rely on technology that isn’t fully realized yet.

Leave retail buzzwords like augmented reality to the movie studios.


Artificial Intelligence

Many retailers and malls can’t get enough of artificial intelligence.

There’s Pepper, a robot resembling a human that’s designed to give customers directions to stores, restaurants, and attractions based on a customer’s current location in malls.

Then there’s Marty, a six-foot-three-inch googly-eyed monolith that detects and cleans up grocery store spills.

Don’t get us 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 already 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. And with locations coming under increased corporate scrutiny for their cleanliness, expect robots to take over cleaning duties in the near future.

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 with retail communication software 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.


About the Author

Matthew Ritchie is a content marketing specialist and former arts and culture journalist. He lives in Ottawa, ON. When not researching and writing about the retail industry, he can be found hiking the trails of nearby Gatineau Park or alphabetizing his record collection.