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Axios' Kim Hart kicks off the discussion. Photo: Lawrence Jackson for Axios

Axios' Kim Hart hosted a conversation on the future of retail, discussing the innovation and security threats transforming the industry. She sat down with 25 topic-matter experts to dig into the trends shaping how we buy things and how these trends will impact consumers, businesses, and workers.

Why it mattered: Not only are we all consumers, but retail is also the largest single source of American jobs — meaning that changes in this industry impact the livelihoods of many.

Innovating retail

Online shopping disrupted the retail industry by giving consumers an almost frictionless experience — enabling them to get what they want, when they want it, at the price they want to pay for it. Coined "the Amazon Effect", this trend worried traditional retailers. The round-table discussed the technology and innovation that, they argue, is fueling a new, experiential version of brick-and-mortar, by giving consumers something that they can't get online.

National Retail Federation Vice President Paul Martino gives his perspective. Photo: Lawrence Jackson for Axios
  • "Price won't make the difference [for brick-and-mortar]. It will be the experience," said Samsung's John Godfrey, acknowledging that consumers can always find an equivalent, if not better, price online than in-store.
  • "In terms of the experience, we don’t see the death of retail. We see a transformation. With augmented reality for example, you’ll be able to put on goggles and see how furniture will look in your home, and how paint will look on your walls," said the National Retail Federation's Paul Martino.
  • "Retailers have to use technology to align their interests with customers’ interests, so they always want to come back," Martino later added.
Securing Retail

As technology and data enable innovation in the retail industry, they also make consumers increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats. This round-table discussed how these threats have the potential to do more damage than most realize, and what can be done to prevent an extremely damaging event.

Diana Burley, Executive Director of GW's Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection, explains the security threats consumers face. Photo: Lawerence Jackson for Axios
  • The consumer-data relationship: "Consumers have a weird paradoxical sense about data ... They’re confused by it and worried about it, but they don’t seem to be acting on these fears ... Data spills haven’t actually affected the way people are using the internet and e-commerce," said the Pew Research's Center Lee Rainie.
  • What will change the relationship: "We don’t want a catastrophic event that will harm all these consumers, but until we have that type of event — when harm is done to people en masse — it’s going to be very hard to convince manufacturers and consumers that [protecting data] is a serious issue," said security researcher Diana Burley, who is the Executive Director of GW's Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection.
Senior Policy Advisor Anna Hevia explains the benefits of consumer education. Photo: Lawrence Jackson for Axios

What's next:

  • "The future of cybersecurity is going to fall on businesses. Consumers aren’t going to blame themselves [for data breaches]," said the Hudson Institute's Arthur Herman.
  • "I think one of the coolest tech-neutral things is consumer education so folks know what they’re getting into ... We shouldn’t have to set up this false dichotomy of 'participate and lose all your data' or 'don’t participate at all and keep your data,' said Anna Hevia, the Senior Policy Advisor for Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA).
Consumers have many retail choices, our guests had many topping choices. Photo: Lawrence Jackson for Axios

Go deeper:

The big picture: Tech wants to make running errands easier

Chinese retail is winning the future

Sears set to close 78 stores this year

Amazon's Prime Day sales may have exceeded $4 billion

China's AI-powered corner store goes global

Go deeper

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Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
8 hours ago - World

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The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.