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Looking Back and Ahead

December 28, 2015

It’s hard to believe that 2015 is quickly sliding into our rear-view mirrors. In many ways, it was yet another year of retail as usual. I’m sure for many museum stores the end of the year looks much like the beginning of the year.  Some stores within museums and institutions can be somewhat protected from seasonal changes with their business rising and falling based on the strength of the attendance of their institutions.

But as we peek around the corner at the new year some of that insulation may wear thin. Every facet of larger institutions could come under review if budgets get tight or if existing business and operating models are overhauled.

But fear not, the constant challenges retailers face serves only to make the business intrinsically stronger. And only those stores that choose to rest on their laurels (among other things) need fear what the future may bring.

Looking back at 2015, you can begin to see how technical advances are changing retail at its very core. Did you ever think that Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and Twitter would become so much a part of the vernacular of retail? Did you think you’d worry about your ranking on Google? And, how did the shift to mobile-friendly websites turn out to be such a big deal? It seems like, in 2015, social media made its presence known in retail in a very big way.

Smaller retailers, like museum and institutional stores, should take cues from larger retailers such as Target, Walmart, and Macy’s. These monster retailers are spending literally billions of dollars, as they try to get out ahead of how retail will be done in the future. They see their business changing and evolving and are choosing to do what they can to stay ahead of the curve. If they choose to ignore what is directly in front of them, they might as well just change their name to Montgomery Wards.

You’ve already seen a shift in the behavior of your customers. Baby Boomers are moving into their 60s and 70s (yikes!), and Millennial’s and Generation Y are quickly taking their place – with plenty of purchasing firepower. You’ve seen that younger generations simply do business differently than their parents. Younger generations quickly embraced smartphones and that single piece of technology is a massive game changer. Almost all your customers are now walking around your stores with lots of computer power and virtually unlimited connectivity. There’s never a time that they’re not connected to the rest of the world. If you sell items that are also available on the internet, you’d better be savvy about your pricing… your customers will be quick to compare prices.

In 2016, expect to see even more technology such as more elaborate POS and cloud-based point-of-sale systems. And I predict it won’t be long before you say goodbye to your old cash register and replace it with something stunningly complicated, but amazingly smart and able to tell you much about your sales, trends, inventory and customers.

Other technologies that may vex you include Beacons, Wearables, 3-D printing, and something called Augmented Reality. It’s funny, each decade we see new technology that promises to make our lives easier and simpler. And although technology does deliver in the long run, 2016 will be another on of those years of change – and a time for you to gain new skills.

But don’t fear the future. Like many things, the future is often over-promised and under-delivered. The beginning of a new year is simply an opportunity to take a deep breath and make friends with the ghosts of the past, while keeping a wishful eye out for what’s to come.

Patrick Mulcahy is Director of Marketing for MSA.

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