"we're drowning in data but starved for wisdom"
I recently attended a conference in New York with about 200 other leaders about the “new state of retail”. Much of the audience was current and former C-level executives that have been in the industry for decades. There were speakers and panel discussions on topics such as “retail's seismic shift”, “disrupting traditional luxury retail on-line”, “keeping up with innovation for retailers and brands” and “stirring emotions, making human connections”. My goal while attending was to observe, listen, and hear what is being said today by some of the most influential leaders in the industry.
There was a LOT of data shared about the “Amazon effect” and how millennials shop differently, both topics of which I believe we have exhausted, and much of it I would put into the “you can have results or excuses; not both” bucket from a prior post of mine. And by data, I mean lots of charts and graphs about store closures, the growth of e-commerce, return rates, pop-up shop growth, real estate vacancies, and more.
What was NOT spoken about? culture, people, training, inspiration, motivation, retail field leadership, talent development- the hard stuff.
It left me feeling like a quote from Arianna Huffington that she said recently... “we’re drowning in data but starved for wisdom”.
We have MORE than enough data telling us about retail in the US, shifting customer behaviors, and my favorite..."the retail apocalypse". Those of you in stores do not need more reports to tell you what is happening, you live it every day.
Here is an interesting fact that I learned; there are 5300 digital solutions available for retail, 1400 created last year, and on average 4 new digital retail solutions are being created per day - lots of data, but still looking for the wisdom. In my opinion, many of these digital solutions align with our general conversation about the use of technology in our personal and professional lives; we are missing the big picture. There are retail businesses that are relying solely on digital solutions like fitting room mirror technology, RFID, or self-service iPads and receiving a lot of positive press, but is it really good or is it a bandaid to a bigger problem?
As if this weren’t enough, the resources we need in order to rise to this challenge; wisdom, creativity, intuition, reflection, and thoughtful decision making, are the very things we are losing access to with our addiction to our screens and devices. With the rise of technology and hyper-connectivity in both in our personal and professional lives (and professionally I am referencing the retail customer experience), it has the potential to erode our humanity in unprecedented ways.
In fact, it is already happening…. our addiction to our phones and our screens, allowing them to be integrated into every part of our lives, is changing how we interact with each other and ourselves. A 2015 study from Microsoft found that human attention span now drops off after about eight seconds. Eight seconds!
Studies have also found that the presence of a phone in social (or professional sales) interactions degrades the quality of the conversation and lowers the level of empathy people feel for each other. In June, I wrote about empathy being the one skill that all great sales people must possess, but is our addition to data and technology, which we as retailers joyfully gave you to use on the sales floor, actually decreasing your ability to be empathetic?
Now, don’t confuse my message here… I love technology. I worked at Apple. I own the latest everything.
And several years ago, I was a huge proponent of putting technology into the hands of sales associates and worked for brands that were early adopters. It was very exciting and put things like customer history, on-hand inventory and client outreach all at your fingertips...lots of data.
But here is what's happening when the customers are not around and often even when they are.... head down looking at your phone. If you are not seeing this, the customers certainly are. All of this data, and all of this technology on the sales floor has actually made things worse at a time when we need to be at our best, finding those little opportunities to be better, to be more engaged, to build relationships that bring the customer back into the store to see you again.
True wisdom comes when you put it all down, and just have a conversation with a colleague, a friend or customer. Put your phone away, look up, and just talk to the customers. No need to try to spew unnecessary product knowledge or use the hard sell on a new item, just have a conversation with a stranger walking in the door.
It's why we exist in stores, our value is because of our human personality, but our existence is being challenged, and instead of letting it just happen to us, fix it.
If you are a leader in a business environment that uses a lot of technology and data, or allows sales associates to have phones on the sales floor, I am giving you a challenge this week...put it all away, and just talk. Pretend it's 2007 and the phone didn't exist yet. Get to know something new about a colleague, engage with a different level of intensity, when you have free time between customers, don't take your phone out.
Take the challenge, and put a little more wisdom and love into your week with a little less data. It will be hard, but feed that place that is starving. We will all be stronger if you do.