Many industries have sought innovation partners. Retailers have just done it far less.
"The challenge will increase in complexity and urgency, and the ability to meet the challenge will be a greater risk factor for the retailer to grow and achieve customer satisfaction," said Girard. "To do that, they'll have to look outside more and more. Innovation is going to become more of a commodity."
For many retailers, the rate of change is simply coming too fast.
"We're moving to a world of big data and machine learning," said Girard. "It's fundamentally a different paradigm for forecasting sales. No retailer, except Amazon, today has the ability to flip its sales forecasting process to a machine learning approach. It's very complex.... That innovation has to be outsourced."
Brian Kilcourse, an analyst with RSR Research LLC, noted that retailers will specifically need tech assistance because they've failed to see it as a differentiator until fairly recently.
"Retailers have zero tolerance for failure," said Kilcourse. "That works against innovation in a big way. And they historically underinvest. I don't think they have any choice. If they want to survive, they have to innovate in the information technology space and they will have to go to who they believe does this best."
He praised the move by IBM, which he called one of the great innovators of the last century. That allows it to take that experience and create new business by helping retailers.
"You don't know what you don't know. If you want to learn to play jazz, you go to a jazz teacher," said Kilcourse. "I think retailers will have to do this. Think about it as this is an amazing time. An industry is transforming before our very eyes and it's all being driven by information and technology.
"It's happening, baby, so why not play?"
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