The cloud and collaboration are two terms that can be rather nebulous and mean many things to many different people.  The cloud is hard to nail down because it is changing so much and so quickly which also in an interesting turn provides additional meaning to the term cloud; the technology and services change so quickly that it is difficult to provide a solid definition and list of characteristics.  Collaboration is another term that also means many things to many people and the terms and conditions and even opportunities for collaboration is continuously changing based on circumstances, partners and the needs of the partners.  So it is rather fitting that these two terms are coming together to support each other and the needs of partners across the spectrum.

There is a second interesting factor that is provided by cloud services and technology and that is the capabilities that the individual consumer can use to extend their own capabilities.  This is one of the first times in the modern era in which the individual consumer has the same technology capabilities as the largest retailers.  Consumers have embraced these technologies and capabilities and are turning the retail industry on its ear with shopping and demands and shopping services provided by third parties. 

Retailers can counter these forces by opening up and collaborating with the consumer to turn the retailer’s market into a physical and virtual community utilizing cloud technologies and services to collaborate with their customers.  This is critical for retailers to break the low cost spiral and improve customer retention.  I believe, because it fits with my own views and desires for shopping, consumers desire an opportunity to share with the retailer in a community environment and I also believe that consumers would shop with the retailer that offers this environment even if the price is not the best price.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think consumers will purchase at a retailer offering the community environment but at the highest price of produce. 

There is another opportunity for retailers and that is the private label that is comparable but also cannot be purchased from other retailers.  The key though is to offer the community shopping environment to consumers to draw them socially to the store / website.  Remember that to the consumer the channel is unimportant and they are simply looking for the social shopping activities.  The retailer that offers a community to shoppers is leaps and bounds ahead of the retailers that simply focus on price.  The community aspect of a retailer’s environment will make up the critical difference and provide a retention factor that will not be available to the price focus alone. 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?