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FOR RETAIL, THIS IS not about a machine artificially creating a realistic TikTok conversation with Margot Robbie. It is about machines recreating how humans think, reason and learn. Artificial Intelligence is improving what has long been technology’s best service for retailers – data collection and analysis and in-store merchandising control.

The new magic words, though, are “real time.” Cloud-based platforms are said to increasingly allow instant shelf-replenishment, updating in-store signage and promotion or creating immediate promotional materials that don’t have to wait for the printer’s shop. Uncovering shoppers’ identities, needs and behavioral proclivities has quickened so that it is applied the moment it reads an in-coming shopper’s irises.

Retailers only wait for the day when AI learns to control inflation.

AN EYE FOR AI.

Top Stories of 2023

Top Stories of 2023

A PENNEY EARNED.

Wobbly heritage retailer JCPenney, founded in 1902, made a startling announcement in 2023. It unveiled a billion-dollar plan to invest in upgrading its brand and customer support, including a massive redesign of its stores.

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Top Stories of 2023

“We are poised for continued growth and know that the surest path to success is by focusing on our customers,” CEO Marc Rosen said. “That’s why we are wholly committed to serving hardworking families across America with the attention, value, quality, choice and experience they deserve.”

Top Stories of 2023

This included launching an exclusive David Beckham fragrance collection.

We’ve yet to see what that new Penney’s worth.

Top Stories of 2023

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YE GODS.

Life has not been Yeezy for Adidas this year. After a lucrative, 10-year merchandise partnership with Ye (formerly, and more popularly, known as Kanye West) and his Def Jam recording company, worth an approximate $250 billion a year to the sportswear company, Adidas has untied the shoe laces.

During several months of ongoing antisemitic behavior, tweets and public statements – even inviting noted far-right white supremacist Nick Fuentes to dinner at Mar-a-Lago – West insisted, “I can say antisemitic s*** and Adidas cannot drop me.” Then Adidas dropped him.

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However, Adidas, which has spent the year battling falling sales and a stock price tumble, still has all that merchandise that it must get rid of either by stripping off the Yeezy labels or having a literal fire sale. Guess who shouldn’t have come to dinner.

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WHAT A DOLL.

The biggest cultural surprise of the year was the runaway, thoroughgoing success of the “Barbie” film that hit America’s movie theaters this summer – yes, there are still American movie theaters. And, following that, the enormous merchandising partnerships that well-prepared retailers tapped into.

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Bloomingdale’s offered an entire window campaign combined with in-store promotions. Aldo, Burger King, Forever 21 (natch), Gap, Hot Topic, Krispy Kreme and Ulta were among others who ran with the idea – even unexpected players like Airbnb, Primark, Progressive Insurance, Spirit Halloween and Xbox.

Top Stories of 2023

Who didn’t participate? Those who didn’t anticipate – which is amazing, according to Sarah Quinlan, Chief Economist at The Consello Group. “Women grew up with Barbie,” Quinlan told VMSD in an exclusive interview. “And remember, women do 75 percent of shopping. So, it was no surprise to us.”

STOP, THIEF.

Target announced that it was closing nine U.S. stores due to theft – three in Portland, Ore., two in Seattle and one in New York, among several others in California.

Target explained that theft, organized retail crime, physical store damage and violence have threatened the safety of its workers and customers. And Target is far from the only victim. The National Retail Foundation reported that losses this year will likely surpass $112 billion compared to one year ago. And the violence is affecting staffing.

San Francisco has been especially troubling. Many other retailers are closing stores in the city. A Walgreens store in the city has the highest theft rate of any of its U.S. stores.

What else can retailers do besides closing stores? Walmart has a novel solution. It will reopen a closed Atlanta-area supercenter with a police substation contained inside.

Top Stories of 2023

Top Stories of 2023

TOO BIG TO NAIL?

In September, the Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon, charging it with using anti-competitive strategies “to maintain an illegal monopoly position in online retail.”

The government charges that Amazon (1) uses a price-checking algorithm to punish the sellers on its platform if they sell their products for less on other websites; (2) forces sellers to participate in Prime promotions, like flash sales and free shipping, or they go to the bottom in search results; (3) replaces organic searches with sponsored listings; and (4) biases its search results, prioritizing its own products.

The online market is notoriously difficult to regulate, but come on, give poor Amazon a break! It’s only trying to own the world…

Top Stories of 2023

Top Stories of 2023

DID AN ANGEL LOSE ITS WINGS?

The word for Victoria’s Secret was “inclusive”: Full-size, transgender and diverse models. Role models like soccer player Megan Rapinoe were stepping in where the likes of Heidi Klum previously posed. The nearly 1400 Victoria’s Secret and Pink stores were updated to be brighter, warmer, more inviting.

And then sales sagged. Or at least they failed to uplift. Online competitors continued to cut deeply into Victoria’s Secret’s historically unrivaled domination of the sector.

The retailer began to pivot again. In September, “Victoria’s Secret: The Tour ’23,” replaced the former runway show after a five-year hiatus.

So a bell rings, and the successful, former brand image is getting its wings back.

Top Stories of 2023

THE PRIDE GOETH.

June was Pride Month, and Target – as it has done for a decade – filled its stores with a rainbow theme, special merchandise and inspirational signage.

Then came the backlash on social media with threats of boycotts and plunging sales. So Target pivoted, reportedly moving LGBTQIA-related displays in a few stores from the front to the back and announced it would be rethinking its Pride Month strategies in the future.

There were other targets in 2023: In April, Anheuser-Busch sent transgender advocate Dylan Mulvaney specially designed Bud Light cans with her visage (the cans were never for sale) – and social media reacted. Kid Rock posted a video of him shooting Bud Light cans, and Anheuser-Busch backed down.

Nothing funny to say. The word is “shameful.”

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