Change… That’s a challenge in itself. Often individuals and organizations alike resist. Some shudder, others embrace, and then a select few are all in. The “all in” are who I’m going to focus on in this episode. When I think of these few, these proud, I think of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). In our industry, whether you’re in a support role at a retailer or trying to innovate as a service/solution provider, FOMO is powerful. Missing out can be detrimental to your organization. With the risk of reduced margins, increased shrink and ever-changing requirements, the last thing we want to see is our bottom-line slip.

When I initially drafted this issue, I was going to focus on two tradeshows held earlier in 2020; the NRF’s Big Show in New York, and Euroshop in Düsseldorf, Germany. Both were amazing events, and to summarize I’ll defer to Manoa: “Change is in the air”. However, now that we’re in the throes of COVID-19, I decided to tweak the episode. Today “change” is an understatement, and “the new norm” is here. Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen society adapt in amazing ways. Individuals have stepped up to serve, donate, innovate and contribute in an incredible fashion. During times of crisis and volatility, it’s not so much the strongest that survive, but the most adaptable. For this trait, I am thankful for my time as a United States Marine where the norm was to improvise, adapt and overcome.

For any retailer or solution provider that was reluctant to embrace change prior to COVID-19, it will be a difficult journey for them to make it through this ordeal intact. All of us will take blows in some form, but how we respond will be the difference between life and death for many of our organizations. I’ve had the good fortune of being mentored by numerous industry veterans over many years. This mentoring coupled with over 20 years of military service makes me confident that PPS will navigate these tumultuous waters. The way that it was, is not the way that it is, nor is it the way that it will be. Innovators and early adopters have been thrust to the forefront. Meanwhile, the early and late majority are playing catch-up. Today’s innovations are shaping tomorrows requirements. Start-ups and small businesses can pivot, as these organizations are unencumbered when it comes to flexibility and openness to thinking outside of the box. This is a strength for small businesses during times such as these, however, just like any other company there are still risks associated with significant economic downturns.

So how does FOMO play into this? It’s the innovators and early adopters that will chart the course through this uncertainty. Offering hope and stability, they will be critical elements to our recovery. Whether it’s a major corporation retooling to manufacture N95 masks, or garage mechanics developing alternatives to traditional ventilators – amazing things are happening. Long before COVID-19, PPS was focused on disrupting through responsiveness. Ask any of our clients… it’s not just words with us. This mantra served us well prior to COVID-19, and it will be center stage long after this pandemic has passed.

Even though I’ve changed the direction of this issue, I do want to reflect on the NRF Big Show and Euroshop. The common theme I found center stage at both was artificial intelligence (AI). For those individuals not paying attention, the train is leaving the station. Whether it’s data analytics, virtual reality or augmented reality, AI is taking over. Customer convenience, re-shaping the retail environment, blending digital presence with brick and mortar to create seamless customer experience is becoming more and more critical. These changes will either result in strategic advantage for organizations or expedite their exit if ignored. The focus should not be showing up for all customers all the time, but rather showing up for the right customers at the right time.

How do we do this? Especially since AI provides no shortage of information. What I ask is how SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based) is your AI? You should be asking:

  • Where is our information coming from?
  • What is being analyzed?
  • Who is responsible for the process?
  • When do we analyze?
  • Why are we looking at this information?

Once these questions are answered, only then can individuals determine how actionable data can be effectively employed to impact their operations and better serve their clients.

Now, back to COVID-19. How does this relate to AI? Detecting abnormal events and shifts in datasets due to anomalies are key, however significant and volatile changes such as a global pandemic or a major market crash can wreak havoc on this process. As an example, during my most recent financial advisor meeting, we finally saw the impacts of the 2008 market crash removed from our datasets. Unfortunately, markets have experienced turbulence over the last several weeks, so we’ll see how the next review goes.

How does conducting business in a post-COVID-19 environment relate? RETURNS! For omni-channel operators, online orders and e-commerce has become a primary lifeline. However, what happens when that flood of returns, both online and instore, occur? Most legitimate, some fraudulent, all susceptible to contamination. Beyond trying to capture anomalies via AI, retailers will need to change the way they operate post-COVID. Will merchandise be quarantined? How will this be accomplished? How do we keep our associates safe? What is the post-quarantine process? Will any treatments be applied (light, chemical, temperature, etc.)? Is or can the article be resold?

Returns is just one of the many factors and scenarios that will have to be addressed. Customer service and interaction is another. Have we seen the end of physical contact? Handshakes are out, nods are in. What else will change in a post-COVID environment? For that, you’ll have to wait for the next issue.

-Christopher Cox, CEO