Product Bash 2011: The Future of Retail and Burning Audience Questions

At Product Bash 2011, we asked our panel of Mark Rowland, Co-founder of online shoe retailerStyle Tread, Andrew Rechtman, Product Director of PayPal Australia and Daniel Roberts, Head of Online for the Woolworths non-food businesses Dan Murphy’s, Big W and Dick Smith, to put on their best gypsy garb and take a deep longing gaze into the retail product manager’s crystal ball to give their perspective on the future of retail in relation to the burning audience questions of the evening. Here is what they had to offer…

…On what the future holds…

Dan: Ultimately customers being able to order things anywhere they want, anyway they want and get it delivered to anywhere any time they want. Fifty years down the road with 3d product printers I can imagine people ordering it online and printing the downloadable form of it into their own home.

Andrew: I think we would be sitting here in a surreptitious, (not in an up skirt kind of way), taking a photo of Mark’s shoes and the phone recognising what shoes they are, presenting me with a whole bunch of options around how I can purchase them such as online, around the corner from a retailer, overseas, and so on. I think it’s going to be around multiple means of discovery, particularly around matching and merging with the online world and the purchase fulfilment is really up to the consumer on how they want to do it.

…On local buying…

Audience: How do you think the multichannel experience caters for fresh food or organic or local buying trends?

Andrew: This is part of the cycle. You now have a rich font of information about what you are purchasing. Currently you walk into a grocery store and you don’t actually know where the produce has come from. Because of the way you want your store to look and feel, because of the premium of the real estate, you don’t have an A4 size piece of paper with relevant info. But you could easily QR code scan that asparagus for example and find out where it came from and compare it to other asparagus and so on. Based on that information, maybe you decide you want local and maybe I decide I want the asparagus that can be delivered in a box to me in my home. The rich information level you can get through your mobile device will inform the consumer’s choice.

…On the carbon tax impact…

Audience: I wondered with the carbon tax. When petrol is really expensive and carbon miles become important how will that impact business?

Dan: That’s a really interesting one because we did this research at Tesco we found it reduces both impact and consumer cost because you’re reducing the number of trips people need to make to go to stores. Now when you are getting product flown in from the US you might argue that it is slightly different but from a grocery point of view it works and they actually got the Carbon Trust in to do the maths.

…On Social Commerce…

Audience: How important is social commerce such as Facebook and so on?

Dan: My personal view is it is fledgling at the moment and Woolworths are not about changing the way we operate and putting huge investment in around trying to get people to use it, but we do have a presence there. At the moment people are using social commerce for customer service and basically talking to us in a way they wish to. If you look at some of the conversations that happen on Dan Murphy’s or Dick Smith, some of them are very entertaining because they are interacting the way they want to with the brand. From an Fcommerce point of view, Facebook is source for information but we don’t see a huge driver for sales because if you provide equally convenient ways to shop then customers will use those in preference. It depends on your categories, you will have some categories like tickets, shoes and wine have a much higher emotional engagement. On the other hand, people are unlikely to share they just bought four by two planks of wood on Facebook. It varies by category.

Nick: The more you can take out the stepping stones to making that transaction is the way we are heading. So if you can make a transaction directly from a poster or from Facebook that could entice customers to use those forms. If you have to direct someone to your website to undertake multiple steps it is going to be harder to make that transaction and people will route around it or go international to find a better way to do it.

…On bricks and mortar mainstay businesses…

Audience: Are there any products you see that will happily stay as bricks and mortar?

Mark: For me, no. I think if you will happily buy a shoe online, you’ll buy anything. I was once told that no one would buy kids shoes online because they had to be fitted but when we delved into what fitting a kids school shoe was and found it to be usually a 15 year old kid measuring the length of a foot and measuring the width of a foot who then consults a piece of paper and says ‘you are a 32d’, considering I can easily do for my own children at my home with a tape measure and a piece of paper, I say no. If I want the convenience to shop in my own home, then I don’t see any impediment.

Dan: I tend to agree with you, apart from anyone who cannot ship for dangerous goods reason, I can’t see any reason why other people would either get it delivered through online or at least use online as part of their purchase journey.

Andrew: I will be slightly contrary now and say I think there is a cap to what people will spend out of their total budget on online. There are certain experiences you want to have in a retail environment and Westfield’s are not going to go away all of a sudden. We won’t all sit at home in our own little eco system that we run online from our house… BUT everything is going to have an online component to it.

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