A Home Depot exec explains the key reason why pushing for ‘the store of the future’ could backfire

  • Don’t get carried away imagining the high-tech, consumer-centric innovation that stores of the future will bring.
  • That’s the message that Home Depot‘s in-store experience and visual-merchandising director, Albert Vita, had for the audience at the National Retail Federation’s 2019 Big Show last week.
  • The Home Depot exec said that it’s more productive to have a holistic view of the business.

NEW YORK CITY – Quick, picture the store of the future. What do you see?

Holographs, AI booths, and touch screens? Omnichannel spaces that maximize both the shopping experience and digital-order fulfillment? Flying, robotic salespeople?

Well, Albert Vita, Home Depot’s in-store experience and visual merchandising director, thinks we should all take a deep breath. He spoke about the importance of always thinking through retail innovation in a conversation with moderator and Zivelo CEO Healey Cypher at the National Retail Federation’s 2019 Big Show in Manhattan on January 13.

He likened retail innovation to an iceberg. Glittery, consumer-facing aspects of stores of the future tend to be the topics that people like to focus on. But everything lurking beneath the surface requires just as much attention.

“It’s so important that you ask: What’s our supply chain of the future?” Vita said. “What’s our marketing department of the future? What’s our inventory planning and replenishment team of the future? Our e-commerce, IT, and even HR of the future? My point here is that the rising tide of innovation needs to lift all of the boats.”

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Vita explained that a store of the future – even one decked out with consumer-centric, digitally advanced, and immersive new innovations – could hardly hope to succeed without a fluid and dynamic support system.

The Home Depot exec explained that his view was informed by the idea that all the advancements in the world will one day become obsolete thanks to the “decay rate of innovation.”

“The idea here is that the moment you put in an in-store innovation, the timer towards obsolescence starts immediately,” he said.

Vita said that Home Depot’s pilot stores function as “living labs” where the retailer can experiment with what its stores of the future will look like. But he noted that creating such a store can’t happen in a vacuum.

“This needs to be a sustained process that lives on,” he said.

In addition to stores, Home Depot has also set up pilot fulfillment centers in order to double down on its same-day delivery capabilities.

And, at the end of the day, Vita said that it’s all about sticking to the fundamentals.

“When I think about retail at its core, it’s about human connection and value delivery,” Vita said. “So when we start thinking about the store of the future I’m going to be thinking about how we exponentially grow both of those.”