“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” a philosopher once said. But what about those who do remember the past, and are therefore condemned to always be cynically grumpy about the present?
I remember my path to purchase history fairly well. (When I don’t, I just consult the P2PI.org archives.) So I don’t have to worry about repeating it. But, because I remember, I do have to worry about being the eternally grumpy cynic in the room, the one trying hard not to rain on the parade of all the optimistic folks talking excitedly about the newest industry game-changer.
For example: “These advancements make Walmart Connect one of the largest in-store activation networks and digital out-of-home ad platforms.” The world’s largest retailer made that statement in January while outlining plans for some brick-and-mortar additions to the game-changing Walmart Connect media network.
The statement is ripe with positive implications not just for Walmart, but also for renewed interest in the brick-and-mortar store as a vibrant, viable component of omnichannel shopper engagement.
You could say that Walmart Connect is “one of the most innovative customer contact systems anywhere.” You could say that, except that was a phrase once used to describe the Walmart Smart Network, which – if you remember your history – was the game-changing in-store media network the world’s largest retailer unveiled in … 2008. (As far as revolutions go, that one never quite earned a national holiday.)
Memory also served me begrudgingly well in January, when news broke about KroGo, the high-tech “smart” shopping cart being piloted by Kroger that lets shoppers scan and bag their groceries while traveling through the store, and then pay without having to go through checkout.
That news reminded me of Concierge, another “smart cart” concept with equal capabilities that was even better prepared for omnichannel shopping because it let consumers create lists at home they could access within the store. Concierge was introduced in 2005. Food Lion piloted the technology in 2008 in its experimental Bloom store concept. We’re not quite sure when Food Lion stopped using the Concierge carts; we do know it shuttered the last Bloom store in 2012.
I know what all you more-optimistic readers are saying right now. Sure, you’re saying, the road to shopper engagement success has been lined with scores of innovative ideas and cutting-edge tools that never quite reached fruition – in many (if not most) cases, because no one wanted to pay the costs of scaling them.
But this time, circumstances are different, you’re saying, because all of those “nice to have” technologies from years gone by have become “must have” tools for retailers and brands trying to keep pace with rapidly changing shopper behavior. However, as the grumpiest, most cynical person in the room, there is only one thing I can say in response:
I completely agree. Against my better judgment. Against all reason. Against all of the lessons that the history of this industry has taught me, I sincerely believe that circumstances are different this time.
Why? Because, for what might be the first time in industry history, shopper expectations and retailer objectives are aligned in the push toward seamless omnichannel experiences. And because brand marketers, as always, are there to help both of them achieve their goals. And also because this “retail media” trend might very well deliver a lot more funding to help these efforts reach scale.
So yes, there is reason for us to be optimistic this time. I just hope we’re right. I really don’t want history repeating itself.