Intelligent retail

Retail Intelligent retail

Published on 05.08.2021 by Prof. Dr. Gerrit Heinemann, Head of theeWeb Research Center at the University of Niederrhein in Mönchengladbach

It is becoming increasingly apparent that predictions for the next ten years are already set to kick in at the end of 2021, assuming the pandemic has run its course. Nobody wants high-street retail to disappear and for city centres to go to rack and ruin.

But citizens vote with their feet, and, to an increasing extent, with their thumbs. If they decide against high-street retail, then there will be reasons for this. But we should certainly not be writing off high-street retail completely. It just needs to reinvent itself. The concept of «intelligent retail» shows very concisely how it can do just that. There are essentially five core themes that are set to shape the future of retail. First and foremost, we need to (1) set out the basic requirements that will allow data-based operations. This, in turn, will enable us to (2) use artificial intelligence (AI), which will allow us to make use of one-to-one marketing based on customer data. If we want to be able to use this, we will need (3) intelligent employee qualification and recruitment. Qualified employees are also needed for a (4) digital supply chain and for (5) future-proof business modelling, which includes the development of smart stores.

The basic requirements for intelligent retail are mainly system-related and organizational. Without efficient inventory management and checkout systems, which have actually been around since the 60s, it just isn’t possible to display any valid product availabilities, and there is no chance of efficient inventory management either. Even if efficient systems are in use and data can be generated, this by no means ensures intelligent customer data is collected. What is customary for online retail is likely to be the biggest challenge to high-street retail. But if we want to make good use of artificial intelligence with our customers, we need identifiable customer information of our own. If you want to use artificial intelligence, you need intelligent, highly qualified staff. This historical paradigm shift, which we can say is a «major transformation», is having a particularly impact on some of the core competencies in retail today. One of the major weaknesses in retail, and something that continues to be shown in a host of studies, is the fact it is not a very appealing employer for qualified workers. But at the same time, retail does have a very good chance of positioning itself as an attractive employer if it uses clever employer branding to broadcast its digital needs. High-potential employees with digital expertise, the type drawn to Amazon and Zalando, are also needed to digitize the supply chain. Future-proof business models, culminating in the development of intelligent and fully-digitized smart stores, are frequently a culture shock to high-street retailers.

But one thing is certain: high-street retail could survive in the future if it reinvents itself. The future of retail is above all else going to need intelligent systems, something that retail has for the most part not been using. Local retailers, too, need to be able to work with data today, something that was never really talked about in the past. They need to change their business mindset, going from product-focused business models to consumer-focused business models, where the customer experience is given priority.


Due to the current situation, Connecta Bern will again be held as a digital event in 2021. Connecta is renowned for shining a light on the diverse nature of digitization and this year will be no different with content presented across the three formats of Connecta Blog, Connecta TV and Connecta Talk. Find out more here:



Find out more about Prof. Dr. Gerrit Heinemann in our video interview with him, available from 6 October 2021, at:

Prof. Dr. Gerrit Heinemann, Head of theeWeb Research Center at the University of Niederrhein in Mönchengladbach

Prof. Dr. Gerrit Heinemann, born in 1960 in Osnabrück, is Head of the eWeb Research Center at the University of Niederrhein in Mönchengladbach, where he also lectures on business administration, management and retail. He began his university career in 2005 after nearly 20 years of experience in the field.

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