The future of retail does not hinge on any one device or technology. The future of retail demands a commitment to the customer experience above all else; technology is simply an enabler for a brand’s contextual and personalized connection to the customer.

The biggest challenge for CMOs and their agencies is threefold:

  1. To engage: create moments that engage, surprise and delight the customer
  2. To bring context and relevance to the customer experience: harness multichannel data to increase engagement and conversion
  3. To drive actionable insight: through data, to derive an accurate view of the successes, failures, and opportunities that new technologies afford the business

What is hype? It depends on your desired business outcomes. If your goal is to be seen as a progressive organization whose use of Google Glass personalizes the customer experience – such as Virgin Airlines use of Glass – then Glass is not hype. If iBeacon successfully delivers incentives and streamlines checkout, then iBeacon is not hype. Hype is a condition of unsuccessful implementations.

I believe that the future of retail can be found at the intersection of personalization, utility, and stopping power, or engagement; to synch the shopper’s journey with the right technology – tools, data inputs, and measured insights – to enrich the shopper’s experience.

What do we know?

“70% of the buying process in a complex sale is already complete by the time prospects interact with a sales person.” – Sirius Decisions Research

“80 percent of people who own three devices switch between devices to complete tasks or activities.” – GfK Market Research

“60% of Millennials are already willing to provide their details about their personal preferences and habits with marketers.” – Mintel

“For Starbucks, more than 11 percent of transactions per week are now happening with a mobile device in-store.” – Starbucks

“I say that my job here is 10 times harder and 100 times more interesting than it was 3 years ago.” – Carolyn Feinstein, SVP of Global Consumer Marketing for Electronic Arts

Who will clean up the multichannel data mess? Clients are experimenting with new roles such as the Chief Omnichannel Officer, or “COCO” for short. Apparel retailer “Finish Line” installed its first COCO this year. His (in this case) job is not to tie together customer data one API at a time, but to be a strong marketing and digital leader – to be accountable and responsible for the customer experience across the multichannel retail landscape.

Where and when is the transition from experimentation to practical implementation? That time is now. What we’re experiencing is the Big Bang of data, technology, design, and customer experience. The question is whether your organization is ready to create a strategic planet for these elements or if you’re going to end up with a lot of hot air.