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Announcements | November 15, 2022 | 9 min read

Retail Expert Chris Walton on: What A Smart Store-Enabled Black Friday Will Look Like

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Retail expert Chris Walton gives his thoughts on what a smart store-enabled Black Friday will look like. 

The inspiration

The aspect I love most about my job is that it sparks moments of creativity where I least expect them. And, then by the same token, it affords me the opportunity to write everything down and to learn from the exercise of doing so.

One of these moments hit me on the head like a sledgehammer recently when I was interviewing VusionGroup’s Philippe Bottine for one of our recent Omni Talk podcasts about what it takes to create a smart store (see full podcast recording).

As I was sitting there interviewing Philippe, I got to thinking: What would Black Friday look like in a smart store-enabled world? What would that world look like operationally for retailers? And what would shoppers think of it, too?

I haven’t been able to get these questions out of my head ever since. I keep going over and over them in mind, utterly captivated by the mental picture that starts to emerge. 

And that picture is one I am excited to share with you now.

Setting the table

Before I outline this vision, however, it is important to align on what I mean when I say “smart store.” For that definition, I am going to draw upon my previous article, where I outlined what it takes to build a smart store, as well as my podcast interview with Philippe in which we discussed SES-imagotag’s VUSION platform.

In this context and, therefore, going forward in this article, when I say “smart store,” I am assuming a store that reads and reacts to data ultra-quickly (via cloud and edge computing), a store that leverages the power of computer vision and RFID, a store that deploys electronic shelf labels to adjust pricing as needed, and a store that is easily piped into a nearby microfulfillment warehousing operation.

When one assumes all these ideas above, magic starts to happen because it opens up a world of awesome potential.

Promotions on steroids

The first thing that is synonymous with Black Friday is, of course, deals – deals, deals, and more deals!

A smart store takes present day Black Friday deals and puts them on steroids to a level not seen since the days of the East German swimming team.

Because, in theory, with electronic shelf labels deployed across the store, retailers have the flexibility to offer deals by the day, by the hour, or even by the minute with just one quick press of a button that could change any price on shelf instantaneously and for any duration, an idea I first teased back in 2020 for Forbes.

This situation would be ideal for retailers because it gives them the flexibility to keep their merchandising fresh and to offer various enticements to come into the store all Black Friday weekend long, possibly even with some surprise offers only available for those customers who shop in store at a precise time of the day, too. 

The gamification potential alone is insane.

Think about it – big brands like Sony Playstation, Nintendo, or Xbox all coming to life in their own unique, promotional way every hour on the hour. 

Or even better still, imagine a full brand takeover of digitally-enhanced endcaps throughout key sections of the store, from the likes of P&G in beauty or Lego in toys, that tease shoppers with games or deal countdowns for which they just have to stick around (just 30 minutes more – that’s all, Mom, please! Pretty please!) all coordinated to maximize conversion against in-store traffic patterns.

And what if these gamified deals were also somehow supped up locally via a television broadcast? Oh, I don’t know, say something like Amazon’s recently announced Black Friday NFL football deal?

In many ways, this future may already be closer than it appears, and consumers, let’s be honest, would absolutely eat this world up.

Or said another, Pavlov ain’t got nothing on a digitally-enhanced endcap in a smart store.

On-demand, super fast convenience

The other compelling thing about a smart store is that it enables shoppers to shop their own way and on their own schedules. By that, I mean inventory accuracy in-store would be greatly increased through the use of RFID and computer vision, and, thus, retailers would no longer have any qualms about coordinating or pulling inventory from floor stock for pickup or for ship-to-home orders. 

The beauty of coordinated cloud POS and OMS systems, operating alongside computer vision-like precision and RFID tracking to monitor inventory in-store at the edge, is that it enables a retailer’s back-of-house warehousing operations and front-of-house picking operations to run in complete synchronicity.

In essence, every store would and could operate as a highly efficient, mini-e-commerce fulfillment center, and the picks to fulfill demand would be determined by what the smart store knows is available on shelf relative to the warehouse, taking into account pricing, via digitally adjustable shelf labels, against the assumed levels of future in-store demand.

God, I love smart stores and just writing that last sentence.

Retailers would then be able to sit back and rely on their systems to serve up the inventory they have available to the consumer, however the consumer wants it fulfilled . . . and fast.

The whole situation calls to mind my recent experience with Amazon’s Early Access Prime event in October. I ordered a couple of iPads, and Amazon delivered them at no extra cost in under 3 hours! 

The only difference here is that, in my vision, this option isn’t just available across some products. It’s available across EVERY product, for the entire weekend, should the customer want to elect that convenience, not necessarily from a warehouse hundreds of unsustainable miles away but possibly from a store just a few sustainable miles closer to the end consumer.

And, lastly, because retailers also wouldn’t have to put any staff on pricing changes, they would have more payroll to devote to picking and shipping out of the store!

How’s that for a virtuous cycle?

A physical store revival

Perhaps the greatest thing I can say about a future smart store-enabled Black Friday is what it means for the store itself.

The world I described above enlivens physical retail. It makes it special. It turns the physical store into a localized entertainment focal point for the entire weekend. It makes the store the centerpiece of an entirely new social experience that recaptures the ethos of what Black Friday weekend was originally all about – the social joy of shopping.

Gamified deals, exciting merchandising, all connected seamlessly to on-demand fulfillment would turn your local Walmart, your local Target, or even your local shopping mall into the place to be on Black Friday weekend, much in the same way as we all remember it in the past.

I, for one, can’t think of a better note to end on than that. The whole idea just gives me nostalgic goosebumps and puts a big smile on my face.

The only question that remains – is how fast will it happen? And who has the guts to see it to fruition?

Amazon clearly does, and it will be up to the rest of retail to keep pace. 

Because it is a future with a whole lot to love.

We’re here to help make your store smarter and more efficient.
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