Retail Tech News You Might Have Missed Due To Black Friday Weekend

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Yes, Black Friday weekend is extremely important and highly watched. But it’s not the biggest sales event – Singles Day has that beat by a longshot, and Diwali has surpassed it as well (INR 3.75 lakh crore translates to roughly US$45B for those like me who needed a bit of help with the math).

So to help keep it all in perspective, here are retail and retail technology news items that might’ve been crowded off the radar by all that Black Friday weekend coverage.

Amazon
AMZN sells Hyundai cars

Amazon is partnering with Hyundai to sell cars. Two questions from me. What will this do to Amazon’s sales results? Not selling Hyundai cars, specifically, that’s a drop in the bucket, but more and more big ticket items like cars in general. I don’t think it matters from a revenue perspective, but it does mean Amazon will have to develop more involved sales capabilities to support these more higher consideration or big-ticket item like cars. Will the low cost / high convenience retail marketplace finally put the pieces together to crack the code on selling luxury?

Another often overlooked part of this news: Hyundai will enable Alexa for voice interaction in their cars. This new came literally the same week that Amazon announced laying off workers from its Alexa unit.

Rite-Aid closes stores, Miniso opens more

Rite-Aid announced it was closing more stores as part of its bankruptcy and reorganization. Are DIY and sporting goods the only big box retailers left standing? I guess crafting too – except that JOANN hasn’t been faring well either.

At the other end of the spectrum, Miniso, a Chinese retailer that specializes in Japanese-themed kitsch like Hello Kitty, is opening 20 new stores in the UK. Two notable things about this. The UK market faces much stronger headwinds than the US market – higher inflation, more direct impact of higher interest rates, not to mention miserable weather that has kept shoppers inside. So 20 stores seems like a standout among the misery – except that Miniso’s COO Saad Usman pointed out the expected success of a low-cost line of cosmetics as part of the UK push, so it may be more a case of the right price point at the right time.

The high cost of cheap retail goods

Miniso’s low cost cosmetics come at a time of heightened conflict between cost-conscious consumers and the environmental and societal impact of cheap goods. Vox published a broadside against the fast fashion industry and “over-consumption” in general. It raises both the wasteful impact of an industry that does not pay attention to the full lifecycle of its products, and the very real human rights issues and abuses that constantly plague the industry.

I’m fascinated by this trend, because it’s something of an unintended consequence of some of the dark side of social media. Stick with me: social media values engagement whether it’s healthy or not as a way to drive eyeballs and advertising revenue. But some of the most engaging (and least healthy) content spins out conspiracy theories about globalist industrials who want to turn us all into consumption-bots. The least metastasized version of this is a general unease with consumption, a rejection of working hard to spend more (growing even more dominant as Gen Z confounds workforce managers), and viral posts on how to go on spending strikes (trying not to spend any money for a week at a time). All paid for by the advertising revenue generated by companies trying to drive consumer spending. I very much appreciate the irony, and when people talk about the future of social media, I think most of all about this dynamic and how it might develop.

Apple
AAPL doesn’t want to be your bank, it wants to make your bank better

Well, the company may yet want to be your bank too, but in the meantime Apple is trying to win the consumer digital wallet wars (which everyone forgot we were fighting) by bringing more data to the wallet directly, thus increasing its utility to consumers. UK first, US next?

The self-checkout debate continues

Marks & Spencer weigh in on the SCO controversy, saying basically that it enables “middle class theft.” I’m not sure what that means except maybe that it makes crimes of opportunity very tempting? Another staffing issue, in my book. If consumers feel so unmonitored at checkout that they can skip the scan or key something expensive as something cheap, that’s not a crime of opportunity so much as a retailer’s own self-inflicted wound.

Taking theft control to the extreme

Following that self-inflicted wound comes what I guess I should characterize as an enterprising vending machine company positioning its solutions as a way to deter theft in stores. My take is more like “retailers would rather put vending machine in stores than staff them.” My other take is I would rather shop online from the safety of my home than have to deal with a retailer whose stores are so out of control that putting in vending machines seems like a good value prop. I mean, why bother with the store at all? Just front your store with vending machines that can be stocked from behind, and then close the doors.

There are two things that differentiate a store from online: the environment/ability to touch and feel, and the presence of employees there to help you. Remove them both, and there is no point to the store.

Bridging digital and physical

And finally, a Mindshare/Snapchat study identified six need-states of social media users. From the report summary, consumers spend time on social media fall into these buckets:

  • Exploring (22%): Openness to new experiences and discovering new places
  • Learning (16%): Finding happiness in expanding knowledge
  • Progression (15%): Desire to build your future and move up in the world
  • Joy (19%): Specifically looking for fun, upbeat moments and experiences
  • Hanging Out/Time Waste (15%): Passing the time in their day-to-day lives
  • Connection (13%): Using social technology to share their lives with family and friends

Especially after skewering social media above, why would I call this out? Because retailers should expect that consumers come into stores looking to satisfy these same needs. The ratio of expectation might be different and some of them might have a slightly different twist (Progression might mean something a tad more acquisitive in terms of buying something that helps you achieve the same end – you’d be shopping in a store, after all). But so much commerce happens in stores, and so much performance expectation is built into driving store sales, that sometimes it’s easy to miss that there are other reasons people go to stores besides to buy stuff. If you can design stores to speak to more need-states all at the same time, you might just find that consumers come back.

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