Digital retail, not just retail

Digital technology is deeply and comprehensively affecting every aspect of people’s lives. Similarly, retail is undergoing a profound and radical change. Whether it is the e-commerce represented by online retail or the entity supermarket represented by offline retail, the influence and change of digital technology on them are happening. It is predictable that when the impact of digital technology becomes deep and comprehensive, there will be a fundamental change in the retail industry.

If we regard the transformation of the retail industry by the Internet as a kind of scene migration from offline to online, then the transformation of the retail industry by digital technology is more like a comprehensive transformation from the inside out. After such a stage of transformation, no matter the traditional retail model represented by physical stores, or the new retail model represented by e-commerce, there will be a deep and thorough transformation.

Therefore, digital retail is not only the transformation object of traditional retail, even those e-commerce platforms, are also the object of digital retail transformation. Only by realizing this, can we get out of the shallow and narrow impression of digital retail and look at it from a new perspective; Only by realizing this can we get rid of the bias towards digital retail and truly bring the development of digital retail to a new stage of development.

Digital retail is not a continuation of e-commerce

Looking at the current digital retail market, it is clear that players are still using Internet thinking to land and practice it. Whether it is empowerment or transformation, we smell a familiar smell every moment. In the past, e-commerce platform players have changed consumers’ consumption habits by moving merchants from offline to online, thus achieving de-intermediation of the connection between products and consumers.If there is a summary of their development model, the Internet style of disintermediation of development model, no doubt is more appropriate.

When the upstream and downstream traffic of the industry has not been Internetized, the platform e-commerce model can indeed improve the efficiency and solve the pain points of the industry. Look at the momentum of those e-commerce platforms for a clue. However, when the upstream and downstream elements of the industry are all Internetized, especially when the upstream and downstream traffic of the industry are all Internetized, the platform-type e-commerce model begins to encounter difficulties. The search is on for an e-commerce successor.

It is in this context that digital retail has been pushed to the fore.

Different from e-commerce platforms that only realize efficient connection between demand and supply by means of deintermediation, digital retail focuses more on the transformation of the retail industry, especially the transformation of marketing and promotion methods of the retail industry. With the help of new marketing methods, with the help of new digital means, the demand side and the supply side once again efficient docking.

Through in-depth analysis, we can see that these digital retail players are still using digital means to change the way and method of marketing and promotion, still using digital means to renew the Internet-based business model, without really changing the elements, processes and links of the retail industry. Although such a development model can still obtain certain development dividends, however, when these dividends disappear no longer, such a digital retail way is bound to encounter difficulties. Obviously, this is not really digital retail.

The so-called digital retail is not just a continuation of e-commerce, let alone a panacea for the survival of e-commerce, but a new existence. Recognizing this, we will find ways and methods for digital retail landing, so as to completely get rid of the stumbling block of the Internet and truly bring the development of digital retail into its own development track.

Digital retail, a whole new species


Since digital retail is not the continuation of e-commerce, then, what is the real digital retail? What is the connotation and meaning of its essence? How are we going to land and practice digital retail? The answer to all these questions boils down to the fact that “digital retail is a whole new species”.

1. Internet, not the “core technology” of digital retail


When digital retail came along, what we saw was that a lot of players focused on a new definition of traffic, a new definition of marketing, a new definition of content. If these so-called “new definitions” are summarized, it is not difficult to see that they are based on the Internet, Internet technology is their core technology. At the end of the day, players are still scratching around on the underside of the Internet. Everything seems to have changed, but nothing has changed.

The reason is that while the “core technology” of digital retail remains the Internet, it is unlikely to achieve breakthrough development anyway. No matter how many new concepts and models we see, they still fall into the category of the Internet. Only when the “core technology” of digital retail is truly attributed to digital technology, and digital technology is used to fill digital retail and drive digital retail, the development of digital retail can truly step into its own development track.

This is because, unlike the Internet technology which blindly makes matchmaking and docking, digital technology pays more attention to the in-depth and thorough transformation of the internal elements, processes and links of the retail industry. After the transformation of digital technology, the retail industry will break the boundary between online and offline, will knock down the wall of virtual and physical, and achieve a deep and comprehensive integration. Only by truly using digital technology to act as the “core technology” of digital retail, and truly using digital technology to realize a new connection between the demand side and the supply side, can digital retail really enter a new stage of development.

In fact, what we are seeing now is that many aspects, such as intelligent decision-making, intelligent design and intelligent logistics, can basically be classified into the category of digital retail. But this is just the beginning. After the transformation of digital retail, especially when digital technology has become the “core technology” of digital retail, the traditional way of connecting the upstream and downstream of the industry will undergo a thorough and comprehensive change, thus, the retail industry can truly enter a new stage of development. To be clear, this goal cannot be achieved without getting rid of dependence on Internet technology.

2. Platform, not the “primary form” of digital retail


Whether it is a comprehensive player represented by a large Internet e-commerce platform, or a professional player represented by a large SaaS service provider, we can see that they are mainly in the form of platform and center. The difference is that integrated platforms still have integrated resources firmly in their hands, while professional players have specialized resources firmly in their hands. No matter which form, they are ultimately the platform as the main form of expression.

When digital retail takes platform as the ultimate form of expression, it can never get rid of the role and positioning of matchmaking and docking, and it can never change the development mode which mainly focuses on harvesting traffic and expanding scale. In the long run, digital retail has become synonymous with e-commerce. Obviously, such a development model is not the ultimate form of digital retail. In the real sense, digital retail should be de-platforming and de-intermediation.

In the author’s opinion, digital retail in the real sense does not need platforms and centers. In the new system of digital retail, the upstream producers and downstream consumers of products can realize seamless connection, and such connection does not require third-party platforms as trust endorsement, let alone a variety of marketing and promotion means. In this process, digital retail plays the role and function of feeding the downstream demand back to the upstream supply side and directing the upstream products to the downstream demand side.

Obviously, this new business model, which gets rid of the platform and center, will once again improve the docking efficiency of both sides of supply and demand, and will once again promote the efficiency of the industry to a new stage of development. In this process, digital retail players are no longer playing the role of platform and center, but more are beginning to play the role of the details of the supply side and demand side, and the role of the tangible into the intangible. They seem to be absent, but in fact they are everywhere.

3. Patchwork, not a “fixed action” of digital retail


When it comes to digital retail, many gamers focus on reassembling existing retail elements, processes, and processes. It has to be said that this kind of simple patchwork, indeed can obtain certain effects, obtain certain development. However, simply piecing it together without changing the original “building blocks” of the retail industry, digital retail will only derive one shape after another, but cannot make these “building blocks” really derive new “life forms”.

Therefore, digital retail is not just a simple patchwork in the general sense, but more seeks a new way of combining old and new elements, which is derived from not one “building blocks” of different concepts, but one fresh “individual”. When digital retail really derived new “life”, and these “life” between the new features, the mission of digital retail is really completed.

The author believes that patchwork, by no means digital retail “fixed action”. Breaking the boundary between original elements and elements, breaking the boundary between links, breaking the boundary between original modules and modules, truly integrating elements, links and modules together, and finally forming a state of “you are in each other” among elements, links and modules, is the key to ensure a real breakthrough in digital retail.

4. Retail, not the “end” of digital retail


The most fundamental reason why digital retail differs from traditional e-commerce is that traditional e-commerce takes the completion of transactions, namely, the completion and realization of retail, as its ultimate goal. Retail, however, is not the “end” of digital retail, or even a beginning.

The author believes that the key lies in how to transform the upstream production end and how to reshape the traditional supply and demand model after the realization of digital retail. Just imagine, if digital retail only takes transaction achievement as its ultimate goal, it only needs to constantly launch marketing tools and constantly innovate marketing ideas. Then, its development falls into a vicious circle like the Internet.

Defining digital retail in terms of retail alone, far from giving players more space to imagine, can lead to a dead end. Therefore, the development of digital retail can be brought to a new stage by jumping out of the stumbling block of retail, looking at digital retail from a higher dimension and a broader vision, and treating digital retail as a starting point of restructuring the industry and finding new ways and new methods to transform the upstream and meet the downstream.


When the digital wave becomes deeper, people’s understanding of digital retail also reaches a new height. In a sense, digital retail is not a continuation of e-commerce, but a completely new species. It got rid of the dependence on the Internet, it broke through the Internet, it realized the transformation of traditional species. Digital retail, after all, is not just about retail. Only in this way, can digital retail truly assume the role and task of the digital economy era, and can digital retail walk out of a new way of development with its own distinctive characteristics.


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