An Unexpected Industry Pivot: Optimism

Looking beyond the in-store/online divide, retailers express new confidence

Author: Jennifer King

March 20, 2018

It's not 2017 anymore.


After an unexpectedly strong holiday season closed the door on 12 months of "retail apocalypse" headlines, the retail industry is showing signs of confidence not seen in a year or more.

But the confidence stems from something more than Christmas sales. Rather, the industry appears to have embraced the idea of consumer-centricity and moved on from the mindset of forcing a specific purchasing journey.

“There is [a] building confidence that the industry is now pivoting” away from separate silos for in-store and digital sales, said Carrie Ask, executive vice president of global retail at Levi Strauss & Co., during a panel at Shoptalk in Las Vegas. “We don’t think of it as either/or anymore—it’s just shopping.”

This was echoed by others at Shoptalk. Ken Worzel, president of Nordstrom's ecommerce site, said the department store is moving away from separating its ecommerce and brick-and-mortar business because the fragmented perspective is not an accurate view of how consumers shop. Instead, Nordstrom looks at business performance on a local level, examining local assets like people, product and place, then ties those elements into how it serves consumers digitally.

“That’s how [consumers] shop; they don’t think about shopping our website or shopping our stores,” Worzel said. “They think about shopping Nordstrom.”

Nordstrom, for example, has deliberately bridged online and in-store for a retail experience that better expresses the actual consumer journey. How digital and physical interact and enhance one another has been found to drive high-touch shopping experiences.

The adoption of key cross-channel capabilities is still in progress. A September 2017 survey by Brightpearl and Multichannel Merchant found that more than a third of global retailers currently support cross-channel returns or exchanges. And more than 60% either already support them or expect to do so within a year.

The survey found similarly widespread adoption of other line-blurring technologies, such as making in-store inventory visible online.

“This idea of the store of the future doesn’t necessarily mean screens everywhere,” said Ethan Song, co-founder and CEO at apparel retailer Frank And Oak, during a fireside chat at Shoptalk. “Sometimes when you look at that, it seems that’s what people are saying. What you want to have, in terms of technology, is technology that makes life easier and that makes the transaction more seamless.”