Adapting Physical Retail For A Digital World [PSFK CONFERENCE SF]

Former Best Buy exec talks to PSFK on leveraging technology to close the gap between product discovery and purchase.

PSFK invited Geek Squad founder and Former CTO of Best Buy to speak at our upcoming Future of Retail Conference in San Francisco. After stepping down from the big box electronic retailer, Robert now fosters start ups in the Bay area along with working on his own. On October 30th, Robert will share how technology is changing the shopping experience for retailers and consumers alike.

Before stepping onto our stage, we asked Robert a few questions to get his take on the evolving retail space in general.

In a recent newspaper article, you said that Amazon would not kill physical retail, but rather it would kill mediocre retail. What do stores have to do to avoid being “mediocre”?

I recommend a simple metric: focus on removing friction everywhere in the customer experience. Friction = steps(clicks) X time(minutes) X Cost(price)

Every channel and interaction should not just be benchmarked against your prior performance, but against all similar consumer experiences. What is the friction of ordering via phone, web, or store? All three should be seamless and fluid – and compared to other competitors. Count the clicks. Count the minutes those clicks took. Then how did you compare on price?

Speaking of Amazon, they recently opened up their first brick and mortar shop. What does that mean for traditional retailers?

Who would have predicted that in 2014 Jeff Bezos would own a newspaper (Washington Post) and Amazon would open a physical retail store. It just goes to show you: there are no rules. You must experiment, you must use technology to improve the experience, and you must move fast.

In the fast-paced world, what are some of the larger issues retailers face today?

There have been and always will be challenges for retailers. Of course, mobile is the fiercest threat AND opportunity yet. I think the biggest barrier I saw in corporate America was the utter lack of curiosity on the part of the top executives. I saw no enthusiastic embrace of all these new wonderful methods to take pain out of the shopping experience.  This is great news for the new generation of leaders…there is plenty of room to improve things.

Undoubtedly, some companies are more accepting of technology. How has this changed consumer expectations?

Consumers are now the geeks. Once you board an airplane with a barcode, or you order takeout on your mobile phone, it teaches the consumer about what is possible. Now they will expect it to be that easy (frictionless) against all other experiences. We are seeing a great cross-pollination of expectation. This will only increase pressure on mediocre players.

Can you share some predictions for how retail will change in the next five years or so?

A customer will expect to be able to order from any channel, check the status from any channel, have their preferences remembered (and even predicted!), and they will expect the leaders and CEO to be listening in case anything is less than perfect.

Technology can not just automate, but anticipate. A good system will augment nice employees, and nudge them against error. It will do so effortlessly, and make even the employee feel like a hero. Remember: the systems and tech we give the employees is almost more important than the tools we give to consumers.

To hear what Robert and our line up of industry experts have to say about the future of retail as well as highlights from the forthcoming Future of Retail report, join us October 30th from 8:30 – 12:30 at PCH International’s Innovation Hub for our Future of Retail event. Tickets are available online on our EventBrite page.