Retailers Go High Tech To Boost Holiday Sales
Trailing a tangle of wires, banks of iMacs materialize out of nowhere atop the shiny glass and chrome sales counters in the Nordstrom’s flagship store in Seattle, along with an army of caffeine-infused tech experts who hover around color-coded sticky notes on a rolling glass partition.
This is a “flash build,” a technology version of a flash mob, concocted by the Nordstrom Innovation Lab, whose logo is a lightbulb and whose purpose is to invent new ways to keep the famous retailer ahead of its competitors—in this case, by developing an app, with feedback from curious customers, that lets buyers compare sunglasses on a tablet, side by side.
It’s just one of the many ways retailers are using technology this buying season to separate consumers from their money and to fend off competition from both brick and mortar stores and online sellers.
Much of this high-tech adoption isn’t happening on the shop floor however, it’s behind the scenes in a backend supply chain that is coming under unprecedented pressure. And the holidays will be a crucial test of whether many of these high-stakes gambles pay off.
“The most disrupted area of retail is the fact that supply chains were designed to move products from suppliers to stores, and that’s not how products get to customers any more,” says Nikki Baird, managing partner of the analyst firm Retail Systems Research (RSR). “Retailers are throwing up in the air all the assumptions about supply chains now.”
Businesses have spent the last year refining ship-from-store capabilities, for example, moving products from where there is supply to where there is demand—a bathing suit in Florida, say, that a customer unexpectedly wants in Minnesota.