The future of retail

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Technological advances that have benefited the general public have in some cases come at the expense of other people, especially those who have worked and depended on retail jobs for any length of time.

This fundamental shift is felt acutely in retail segments that are focused on electronic devices, but no segment of the retail industry has experienced complete immunity.

With regard to consumer electronics, such as computers, televisions and smart phones, new products come out on at least an annual basis and in some cases, even more frequently.

Retail sales personnel barely have time to learn the location of an item in their store, let alone become familiar with all the features and real-world ramifications before it is replaced by the newest model. The days of asking a salesman in an electronic store if he has actual hands-on experience with a product are essentially behind us. If you do not believe this is true, ask someone in a big-box retailer if he or she has ever actually listened to those Bluetooth ear buds you are considering spending over $100 to purchase. Chances are good that they will say that they have not.

Exacerbating the issue is the fact that most consumers have used technology to do extensive research before ever setting foot in the store and continue to do so once they are in front of a product. Questions regarding function or performance that go unanswered tend to drive customers to make online purchases, with only the convenience of returning an unsatisfactory item to a retail store as an incentive to pay higher prices at brick-and-mortar retailers.

This natural evolution of shortened product life cycles and hopelessly overwhelmed sales personnel is steering many retailers toward equipping stores with Bluetooth transmitters to transmit coupons, product reviews and promotional offers to customers’ smart phones before they can use those phones to conduct searches on outside sources of a product.

Whilst this is a perk to customers, it has the effect of decreasing the need for in-store sales staff, contributing to unemployment, which further reduces the money available to be spent by unemployed sales clerks that are no longer capable of making discretionary purchases.

Where it all leads remains to be seen.

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