The Quest for Connectivity
Mid-Year Conference Keynote Speaker Mark Ibbotson shares why connected stores make the lives of facilities professionals much easier.
By Scott Mason
“The store of the future” is an idea that has been around for years in the multi-site retail sector, with proponents claiming to offer a glimpse of what’s to come for store design, technology integrations and predictions on consumer behaviors. But one expert, Mark Ibbotson, former EVP Realty and Central Operations at Walmart and current Advisor at McKinsey & Company, prefers to look at retail evolution another way.
“I personally have a problem with the term ‘store of the future,’” Ibbotson said, “because the ‘store of the future’ may never actually land. It’s a real hackneyed phrase — everyone says it, but when you walk into one, you often think, ‘Well, it still looks like 1988.’”
Instead, Ibbotson prefers the term ‘connected store,’ highlighted by technological advancements to allow facilities professionals the opportunity to monitor the health of every aspect of a property in real-time.
To help preview what’s on the horizon for retail stores, Ibbotson will give the keynote address at the ConnexFM 2023 Mid-Year Conference on Oct. 10 in Schaumburg, Illinois.
Why FMs Should Look Forward
Ibbotson’s outlook on the landscape of multi-site retail lends to the notion of interconnectivity. “I see a world where everything is connected to everything,” he said. “I think it's important that FM professionals prepare for this world. You are going to be able to optimize your labor. You will be able to work with purpose. You will be able to do some interesting things with preventive maintenance. You're also going to be able to make buildings and facilities more efficient.”
Ibbotson added that this “connected store” can give FMs hyper-focused details on seemingly innocuous facility features. He brings up an example of a store with five entry points, but only one or two are actually being used. “If I can monitor those one or two points, I can give a view on future build,” he said. “I can give a view on the maintenance regularity. But I can also preventively maintain the two that are being used more often than the three that aren't.”
Besides assisting with preventive maintenance measures, the “connected store” can allow FMs to drive down energy costs. “The U.S. is interesting in that the cost of energy is a lot lower than it is in Europe,” said Ibbotson, who hails from the U.K. “Europe tends to be a little bit further ahead in that particular space. However, the U.S. learns very quickly — the price of energy is not going to go down.”
Automation Equals Ease
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have taken the facilities industry by storm, and Ibbotson sees both continuing to impact how FMs perform their roles.
“We’ve been using AI for a while now, but it’s going through a bit of a hype cycle at the moment,” he said. “But it will become smarter.”
He also noted that automation is making headwinds in retail settings, with fully automated dark stores and micro fulfillment centers on the horizon.
Ibbotson has extensive experience in the grocery industry and considers himself a grocer first before a facilities expert. Drawing on this knowledge, he predicted that we would start seeing automation applied to certain portions of the grocery industry. “Online grocery is a big part of the U.S. business,” he said. “Online pickup and delivery are probably 10% of the business in grocery now, and it's only going to get bigger. Some predictions have that number at 15% by 2030. That's a significant part of our volume. Doing those processes better and more efficiently will involve hybrid automation in stores.”
Robotics will also become more prevalent as wages rise and businesses look to offset costs via technologies like cleaning robots or smart cameras to read stock carts. “A digital store will be the connected future with elements of automation,” Ibbotson said.
The ConnexFM 2023 Mid-Year Conference will focus on how technology impacts the facilities industry, and Ibbotson said he is excited to attend and share his experiences and predictions with ConnexFM members.
Going further, Ibbotson said the Mid-Year Conference is an opportunity for attendees to step out of their comfort zones and learn. “Spend time outside your core business to reflect on the trends,” he said. “Meet people in the industry to find out, ‘Am I up to speed? Are they ahead of me? Are they behind me? Am I benchmarking my performance against theirs?’”
It’s also a chance to remove yourself from your nine-to-five and relax. “Decompress and don’t think about the day-to-day. We should encourage people to get out and understand what the rest of the industry is doing and where things are going,” Ibbotson said.