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“One cannot escape from one's own epoch, however revolutionary one may be.” - Georges Braque 

Connected, segmented, cross-channeled, omni-channeled, seamless, automated and optimized. Whatever the adjective, whatever the angle, all of these seem to boil down to the one meta-buzzword of our epoch: Customer Experience (CX). 

It might be tempting to dismiss it as hype. But the quest for CX is reshaping the multi-billion industry that is retail​. It is also threatening millions of jobs, as employees of insolvent giant chains sadly learn almost on a daily basis. And it is one of the focuses of our latest in-depth study, ”Retail, Disrupted – Pressure and Potential in the Digital Age​”.


Sales are analyzed, broken up and reassembled; the customer is depicted from a multitude of angles. Digitalization is just like Cubism. The early-20th-century art movement pushed European painting and sculpture in one dramatic leap into the 20th century. Cubism was to impressionism what digitalization is to retail: a tool for fully exploring a customer, and catering to the multitude. It deconstructs and redefines. Amazon and Alibaba are the industry’s canvasses. CX is a visit to the gallery. 

The millennial - in each of us - does not care much about dusty and ancient museums; she is busy m-shopping on her smartphone, sharing impressions with her e-friends. This Customer 3.0 likes to write instant reviews, compare prices, and experience off and online: 80% of Gen Y and Z shoppers are more likely to visit a store that offers virtual reality. She is a locavore, puts family and friends first and prefers subtle and understated brands. Yet her spending power is projected to eclipse Baby Boomers’ in 2018. That is the game changer. 

What does it mean for retailers out there? Outsiders have made forays into once-exclusive territories, gained market shares, and caught traditional retailers unaware. The latter must now elbow their way back in an ever-disrupted digitized world. The other option is daunting. Outdated and outpaced stores are closing as some retailers see large shops more as a burden than an asset. 

Traditional Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) differences are overrated and superfluous. Everything is retail, exponential, and about People-to-People (P2P). Intermediaries must demonstrate their value-added. 

Is the future of brick-and-mortar behind it? Well, was impressionism thrown on the trash heap of history when futurism disrupted classical art? No is the answer to both. It is all a question of adapting. 

Granted, commerce is not akin to high-brow art. But the ability to connect to the zeitgeist is a key in both fields. As retail comes of age, so should retailers. A strong digital presence can strengthen a brand, at home and abroad. It can facilitate access to markets. It may help boost sales. 

Still, companies need to treat the online world as a mean, not an end; a strategic tool, not a strategy. Omni-channeling, mobility and big data are game changers. 

But more importantly, the mindset needs a reset.

Ludovic Subran

Chief Economist

Euler Hermes


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