[12/3/2019] The State of Online Retail

With Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday behind us, let’s take a moment to reflect on retail. The continued sophistication of online shopping experiences is making the world of retail even more competitive. The players in retail are not just store and customer. Rather, the jungle that is online retail comprises vendor platforms, social influencers, digital marketers, brands, technology applications, and more.

As we enter the full sprint towards Christmas, brands are already leveraging online influencers at record-breaking rates to market for the holiday season. PayPal has just announced its plans to acquire Honey, an online couponing tool. Companies are investing more in advanced software that track shopper preferences. This week’s lecture will explore some of the most innovative retail practices and tools that are changing how shopping is done.

by Eunju Namkung and Scott Talan

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for The State of Online Retail



Nielsen: The Future of Retail is Personal

Bain and Company: The Future of Retail

Lifelong Learning: Retail 2020 | 5 Technologies that will change the way you shop

e-Commerce: How much does speedy delivery really cost





  • Writing: Pick one innovation in online retail (feel free to use or go beyond the examples provided in the lecture). What benefits does this innovation provide to the consumer and/or retailer? What concerns does this innovation give rise to for the consumer and/or retailer? Discus whether you think the benefits outweigh the concerns.
  • Debate: What would American culture look like if all retail were to be exclusively online?
  • Poll: Agree or disagree: I appreciate when I receive targeted ads that are tailored to the products and services I like.
    • Agree
    • Disagree
    • Indifferent
    • Other
  • Short Answer: Given an option to buy something online or in-person, what are the considerations you make when choosing one or the either?


Current Events Quiz

  1. The New York Times article “They See You When You’re Shopping” describes an e-commerce software called Powerfront. Which of the following statements is most accurate about Powerfront?

a. Powerfront has the capacity to track how shoppers are feeling during their chats with customer-service agents by using personalized data, such as words and the movement of their cursors.

b. Powerfront is funded by climate change advocates whose mission is to make sure that all purchases are carbon neutral, and to leverage behavioral science to help make customers choose sustainable options.

c. Powerfront allows small businesses to set up storefronts that mimic a marketplace for customers to explore on one page.

d. Powerfront leverages virtual reality to allow customers to feel physically immersed in their shopping experience by allowing customers to more accurately and realistically view products.


  1. Which of the following statements is true about Black Friday in 2019?

a. More people shopped in-person on Thanksgiving than on Black Friday.

b. Online orders were neck-and-neck with in-person shopping.

c. The majority of in-person shoppers had reserved their orders online in advance.

d. Foot traffic to U.S. stores fell on Black Friday compared to last year.


  1. Which of the following statements is true regarding the state of social media influencers and holiday marketing?

a. Brands are reaching out to influencers during periods of surge pricing to get the most traffic.

b. Marketers are predicted to spend less money on social media influencers this year than in the past because brands have found that influencer reach is limited.

c. Some influencers have turned down working with brands because they choose to limit the number of sponsored posts they run over the holidays or were not given enough advanced notice to work with the brand.

d. The percentage of influencer posts that are paid has decreased in 2019 compared to 2018, and companies are being even more aggressive this holiday season to take advantage of influencers’ decreased number of paid ads.


  1. According to the National Retail Federation, about 20% of retail sales occur during November and December. What does this group project regarding sales for this period in 2019?

a. Sales are expected to plummet because of the short holiday season, uncertain political climate, and concerns around climate change.

b. It expects sales to rise this year to as much as $730.7 billion.

c. It expects that this year will be record-breaking and that more than 34% of retail for the year will occur during this period.

d. Sales are expected to rise, but only for beauty and electronic products.


  1. According to the video produced by Nielsen, “The Future of Retail is Personal,” approximately ___ percent of U.S. customers are projected to grocery shop online by 2024.

a. 20

b. 33

c. 70

d. 92



Featured image credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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