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Retailers won’t notice you if you are just ticking boxes

Cloud. Tick. AI. Tick. Partnership. Tick. And so on. The competitive advantage afforded by new tech very quickly becomes a zero sum game, leaving your disruptive secret weapon merely a commodity, available everywhere and largely undifferentiated.

Ticking tech boxes is endemic in the tech industry, but I detect some positive changes among some of the more enlightened vendors, stimulated mainly by tech startups who are desperate to avoid the language that their forebears take for granted.

Startups want to tell you what they do using simple, conversational language, and they try to impart the value they are offering to retailers up front. This contrasts with more traditional vendors who still start with the tech and then move onto the solution.

Now, cloud and AI are essential and transformative technologies for the retail industry for sure, so I am not trying to diminish their contribution, but if you talk about them up front, then you are no different from your competitors.

In the case of cloud and AI, it is important to talk about value delivered; it is not enough to say that AI helps retailers make better decisions that will help them serve their customers better. That’s understood now.Talk rather about how, show examples and paint scenarios.

It is at this stage that the cracks start to show for many tech companies. Once they have to focus on value rather than the tech, many have to admit to their shortcomings, as follows:

  • They have hired a bunch of data scientists who don’t know anything about retail
  • They are trying to refresh old solutions by adding cloud and AI
  • They have no track record in either cloud or AI
  • They have industry partnerships but none of them based on solid foundations
  • They have plenty of products but no solutions and may lack the consulting resources to develop and deliver a solution

My point is, the language and communications that tech vendors use today as they try to get the attention of retailers is changing but it needs to change further. Most tech language is both arcane and archaic, and there is in fact very little common ground between both parties as to what it all means. ‘I pretend to understand you because I am too polite to say otherwise’ or ‘I don’t want to look foolish’.

Let’s be a bit more honest with each and invest more time in understanding each other first. On these kinds of relationships, solutions can be built.


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