[Video] Retail Executive Michael Scharff on Industry Trends

Serving as a senior executive at Best Buy, Staples, and Toys ‘R Us, Michael Scharff spent over two decades merchandising and creating influential retail experiences. Recently he’s been involved in redesigning that retail experience at agile businesses like e.l.f. Cosmetics and Pley. Today, Michael operates as an independent consultant. We asked him to turn his sights to the near future and weigh in on where he sees the industry heading now. Spoiler: it’s all about making the shopping experience personalized and effortless.

The ability to use all the data we have still hasn’t been tapped into to create really meaningful experiences.

As an industry, I think we’ve been talking about personalization for a bit north of ten years now, and there’s been little actual consumer benefit derived from all the efforts put into it. Mostly, it’s still “recommendations” and, “oh, other people like you have bought these things.” I think the ability to use all the data we have of our customer purchase history, demographics and browse behavior still hasn’t been tapped into to create really meaningful experiences—ones that are really personalized not only to the customer’s journey but to any given point in time.

Additionally, I think it’s really critical for companies that aren’t operating at max efficiency—and there really are very few that are—to differentiate at the product level. Companies that are purely in commodities—whether it’s consumer electronics or office products or mass merchants—those companies have to be laser focused on driving cost out of their businesses and creating alternative reasons for customers to come back to their store. On the other hand, you can sidestep a lot of those challenges with the vertical integration of product differentiation, brand building and customer service.

Companies that are purely in commodities have to be laser focused on creating alternative reasons for customers to come back to their store.

I want one-click checkout everywhere. For me, shopping is usually mission-oriented, so convenience and speed is critical. Amazon has set a very high benchmark around the pain points in shopping: payment and delivery. And we’re not just talking next-day/same day delivery, we’re also talking about scheduled delivery and proxy locations, et cetera. I’m certain they’ll continue to push the envelope on that.

There’s going to be a big transition to voice over the next couple of years.

I also think there’s going to be a big transition to voice over the next couple of years. Again, you can see Amazon doing a great job at the forefront there, with Alexa. These “customer operational experiences” are all what I’m looking for in the years ahead, and what I consider critical to the future of retail.