Introduction

The modern retail system has worked to dazzling effect. From the 19th century, store owners emerged from small beginnings to set in train an industry that has seen some operators become nationally, even globally, dominant. Along the way, they turned retailing into an art, and then a science. Their development was assisted by the lowering of tariff borders and the multiplication many times over of international trade in consumer goods. Efficiency gains enabled by improved production techniques, communications, and information technology reinforced a virtuous cycle of lower real costs and thus prices. Now retailers in emerging markets appear to be repeating the story all over again, except on a scale and at a speed beyond anything we have seen before.

Given all of this, it is hard for those of us who work in retailing to accept that the industry as we know it is living on borrowed time, on the brink of transformation. But that is the view that prompted us to write this book, a view that has been sharpened and reinforced as we researched it. We have spoken to many of our clients and colleagues who are engaged directly in this intense period of transition. What they told us further confirmed both the urgency with which conventional store-based retailers must now act and the extent of the challenges this change represents in strategic, organizational, and above all technological terms. For the industry is in the grip of a revolution powered by digital technology. This ...

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