A Year-End Look at Retail - Page 4

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2004-11-25 Print this article Print

As 2004 opened, many retailers had to fight several battles. First, theres Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, by the way, is not a brutal competitor solely because of its size. Wal-Mart started out by opening stores in places that no respectable national retail chain ever would. Those are the same people running Wal-Mart today. The problem with Wal-Mart is not that its huge. The problem with fighting Wal-Mart is that its remarkably smart and that its huge. As Sears/Kmart are about to discover, being huge is a very short-lived advantage if you dont have the infrastructure and the brainpower to leverage the advantages. But the reasons for Wal-Marts dominance aside, its there and its a problem for every other large retailer. Arguably the second-largest problem is staffing. The razor-thin margins that are the lifeblood of todays retailers pretty much mandate low wages for rank-and-file employees. Recruiting enough workers is difficult enough, but retaining them for months beyond their training period is darn near impossible. The self-checkout rage that reached its peak in 2004 was a retail industry attempt to simultaneously deal with both of these problems. The industry line is that self-checkout is not intended to result in layoffs, as those employees are incredibly rare and valuable. Instead, the theory holds that one-time cashiers can be put to work delivering services for customers. That might include carrying customers bags to their cars, helping to make more sandwiches during lunchtime or helping customers find their way and taste more samples. If this works, the theory holds, retailers could actually compete with Wal-Mart in a crucial way: better service and more services. If Wal-Mart rivals cant compete on price, then they can dominate on experience and value. Thats the theory, at any rate. Heres a short list of stories on how self-checkout influenced the retail scene:
  • Self-Service Need Not Be Self-Delusional
  • Whats The Real ROI of Self-Checkout?
  • Self-Checkout Security A Balancing Act
  • Self-Checkout Faces Practical, Tech Hurdles
  • Intelligent Cart Brings Jetsons-Style Shopping
    Next Page: Industry consolidation.

    Evan Schuman is the editor of CIOInsight.com's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at Evan.Schuman@ziffdavisenterprise.com.

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