I think we can all agree that the retail tech industry is extremely lucky to have so many wonderful experts and content creators!
You may recall that I recently sat down with our friend Barbara Thau to get her take on industry trends and tips for PR folks.
For my next chat, I sat down with Dan Berthiaume, senior editor of technology for Chain Store Age to discuss all things AI, why he loves retail tech and his love of music.
Following are some excerpts from our conversation. Enjoy!
Tell me about your path to retail tech journalism.
I was an English major in college and knew that I wanted to do something that involved writing. I got my start as a small town reporter, working for a few weekly newspapers in the Metro West Boston area.
After a few years I felt like I’d taken small town journalism as far as I could, so I started looking around and found Retail Systems Alert Group, which was one of the biggest retail tech publishers at the time.
I joined as associate editor for the newsletter, and, as it turns out, joined at an interesting time for the retail industry! We were literally writing articles about why you should sell products online. At that point, the big “buzzword” was cannibalization – specifically around the concern that a sale made online was a sale taken away from a store.
In those years, I rose through the ranks and saw an enormous amount of change: the early days and struggles of Amazon, ecommerce turning into omni-channel, the rise of RFID, and of course mobile commerce.
After Retail Systems Alert Group closed its doors, I spent time as a freelance editor before joining Chain Store Age 2013 as their technology editor. I left Chain Store Age for a few years to work for a retail industry software company but rejoined the team at Chain Store Age again in 2019.
What is it about this industry that you enjoy so much?
Well to start, it is a very exciting place to be! To outsiders, you might think retail is just putting stuff on the “shelf” and selling it. But there is so much that goes into selling products.
There are things like merchandising, marketing, and managing the supply chain that come into play. It’s such a complicated process for what seems like a simple thing to the customer.
As well, there’s so much innovation in retail, and I think a lot of the top tech people, who wouldn’t have thought about working for a retailer 20 years ago, are now working in retail. It’s impressive how far the industry has come.
And it’s not just general retail that is innovating, the CPG side of things has really come into its own, too. When I started out in the industry in the late 90s, if a CPG company had their own promotion, they wouldn’t even tell the retailer about it. The backend communication just wasn’t there.
Now, technology is enabling real-time communication between all the partners in the extended supply chain. Overall collaboration has improved, thanks in large part to technology.
As retail journalist, what do you use an inspiration for writing your stories? How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends?
I’m very active online, so I’m always checking the news wires, different retailer websites and the leading business news sites. I also receive a ton of pitches from PR professionals like you all at Ketner Group!
Of course, industry events like NRF give me a good sense of what’s happening and what the big trends are. I also conduct a lot of Q&As with industry experts and retail practitioners, which I love doing.
The thing that is most important to me is to focus on writing content that I find interesting and exciting, because it is my hope that the reader will also find it equally as interesting!
I also try to take inspiration from my past writing as a sportswriter as well as my published short fiction writing to make my retail tech articles as lively as possible.
What retail technologies are you most excited about right now?
Well clearly AI has stolen the show!
The last time I saw a technology so overwhelmingly dominate the landscape was probably the emergence of smartphones. And before that, in the early 2000s, when suddenly people realized e-commerce was a necessary component to their retail strategy.
AI is the most dominant technology I’ve seen in the last 15 years. It will be an important component in every technology system and every part of the enterprise, and like mobile and omnichannel commerce, it will be a constant feature (not just in retail) and will just be assumed.
Aside from AI, we are still waiting to see what is going to happen with blockchain and the Metaverse. We are also still waiting to see how social media will develop as a retail channel, and how AI will affect that. As I just said, AI is inevitable and is bound to play a major role in how retailers promote and sell products on their social media platforms.
Looking into your crystal ball – what do you think retailers will be focused on in 2024?
I think that the global supply chain is still heavily disrupted from the lingering effects of the pandemic, an increase in severe weather events and sadly from the instability in different parts of the world.
AI can provide a lot of assistance in the backend when it comes to trying to predict what are inherently unpredictable events. With machine learning, retailers can take data from all these disruptive events and have a better sense of how to react both in the moment and longer term. Additionally, they can use AI and machine learning to get a better sense of how to find alternate routes in the supply chain.
I also think that retailers will be applying AI to help with labor issues, as there are just not enough associates in the store. What’s interesting is that retailers can use AI not simply to save money on labor or to reallocate labor, but literally to fill in the gaps where their employees just aren’t there. This could include implementing technology like inventory tracking robots and RFID-based product tracking.
What are you reading or listening to right now?
The last book I read was not a retail tech book at all! It’s a memoir called, “Searching for the Sound” by Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead.
If I read off hours, I sometimes like to read something that just reflects my personal interest. I love The Grateful Dead and I love music in general. I have been a freelance music journalist, so I’m always interested in the stories, lifestyles and the “behind the scenes” of musicians.
Because I read so much about retail tech during the day, I often like to read something different at night!