Gina Brugh is RX's Merchandise, Process and Systems Design Specialist and Co-Founder of RetailO2 (our sister business). Gina is a naturally curious person who often asks the questions "no one else is game to." Gina currently works alongside businesses to review their “go to market” systems related to marketing, operations, merchandise, experience and the customer. With a background and career straddling marketing, merchandise and operations across retail, manufacturing and supplier sectors Gina helps businesses optimise their process and systems design through automation and process streamlining.
With her curious disposition, she ventured off to London in April for the Global Retail Technology Show....and this is what she found.
After a 2-year hiatus of in-person events and a lifting of the borders I was lucky enough to attend the Retail Technology Show in London this April. It was a great opportunity to discover what had been happening globally in retail throughout the pandemic and what retail technology trends were hot. With over 6,500+ attendees and over 200 technology vendors exhibiting their latest innovations in retail as well as a stellar speaker line up of topical keynotes there was a real buzz at the show. It seemed it was the first in-person event most had been to in 2 years so everyone was there to connect, learn and collaborate. The speakers were certainly excited to be speaking to a live audience as opposed to a digital screen!
What is Retail Technology?
Retail technology refers to the digital tools and innovations utilised by retailers in their in-store and supply chain operations, for both their brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce platforms. Retail Tech sits right at the heart of the digital transformation of retail businesses.
It was clear from the Retail Technology Show that in 2022 we can without question expect retailers to reinvent retail in a truly transformative way as they continue embracing tech in a variety of ways to the benefit of both customers and employees. What is also very evident is that if you are a retailer not looking at implementing new technology to assist in your in-store CX (customer experience) or your in-store EX (employee experience) that you will fall behind your competitors as they embrace technology in their businesses. Retail is fast paced already but we need to be faster and nimbler in today’s environment. Technology allows retailers to move and react faster, be more agile, and determine a clear path to success. Introducing technology in any business also ensures you are working towards continuous business improvement.
There was a tonne of tech at the show but if I was going to cut it down to the 2 absolute overarching key trends it would be:
Key Trend 1: CONCENTRATE ON TECHNOLOGY AT THE BIGGEST FRICTION POINT IN RETAIL – THE CHECKOUT!
This was a large section of the show and something everyone was talking about. Again though, as with all things tech, there are many varying degrees of frictionless checkout - from the Amazon Just Walk Out technology to staff members working on mobile tablets in-store. You must always consider what is right for your business and if this is really a pain point in your model.
This technology has been developing globally for the past few years, but it is evident this tech rollout was expedited by the pandemic and the need for contactless retail. The self-checkout was something retailers were trialling in the lead up to the pandemic but now it has almost reversed where there are more self-checkouts than not in certain retail sectors. Whether this is (1) because customers feel they can do it better and faster themselves, (2) people want contactless retail for health concerns, (3) the retailers are forcing this by having more self-checkouts than not (perhaps staffing issues), or (4) the retailer getting operational efficiencies at the checkout, it does not matter. It is here and it is here to stay as the customer continues to demand convenience.
Multiple research studies over the years on improving the customer journey has revealed that the largest friction point in the retail store is the checkout. People hate to queue, and people want convenience as we are time poor. I more often than not find myself choosing the self-checkout over the staffed checkout for convenience. In fact, when I was in London in Primark and the queue was larger than life, I was looking for the self-checkout…only to find that this retailer is certainly taking a different approach to tech in retail – which was as shame (see the article on sustainability for more of what Primark are up to!!).
Companies like Amazon with their Just Walk Out technology are leading the way here. In 2020 they began selling their Just Walk Out as a service in the US to 3rd party retailers and in 2021 they launched in the UK. Amazon have opened their first physical Hudson store in Dallas with this technology using a credit card rather than an app. Simply scan your credit card as you enter and exit, and you will be charged only for what you walked out with. Sainsbury’s in the UK are also using this as a white label product.
How to apply this insight to your Store? Just a reminder, that when applying tech solutions in-store, we should not be trying to replicate online in-store. You need to make sure that you create an experience that works for your customer in-store where they have different needs, wants and drivers.
In the supermarkets the self-checkout model works well as it is a convenience shop.
In a Telco store it may be the removal of fixed terminals and the move into mobile terminals such as a tablets as this is a more personal experience for the customer.
In a store where service is key then the best way to remove friction at retail is not necessarily the checkout. Why do we walk into store? Service. In this case the technology that could work best in a service store are the ones that empower your store team to have a productive interaction with the customer. A good example of this is Made, a furniture retailer in the UK, where the staff member can change the colour and fabric of the sofa using a digital experience for the customer.
And remember that friction in store can still play a vital role by bringing some personal engagement in the customer's journey. After all, personal service is something we can be proud of as retailers. Always ask what is right for our customer (internal and external).
Key Trend 2: USING AI TO DRIVE BUSINESS DECISIONS, PROFITABILITY AND EFFICIENCIES
The other obvious trend at the show was the use of AI in the sector. AI is a broad terminology and can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. So, let’s break this down to see where and when AI is right for your business.
Firstly, it is important for us all to understand what AI really is.
What is AI?
Artificial Intelligence or AI is information that is collected by smart machines that can perform tasks that usually require human intelligence. It processes human intelligence at a rate faster than a human ever could and without mistake. It’s the science (and sometimes the art) of retail on steroids.
Retail is a fast moving, low margin industry that is collecting so much data on the way, so why not use this data we are collecting to improve our business? How do we do this in a way that everyone can interpret and understand? This is the big question.
As the retail industry undergoes a period of transformation, businesses need to adopt a more detailed and data-driven approach to profitability and look to employ technology, so our teams are informed, one step in front of the customer and empower them with the ability to work smarter - not harder. As retailers we are all collecting data but how do we ensure we are set up so we can use this data.
If you are going to invest in AI you will need parameters of when to use AI in retail, otherwise you will find yourself quickly in a rabbit hole so deep and complex, with no path out, that you will go off track. An effective way to stay on track is to consider only using AI where we can impact the customers KPIs and measure success.
Always start with the customer, be they an internal or an external customer. If we look at a common example of this, you could start with:
What challenges do our internal/external customer experience on our website?
What are the challenges for the internal/external customer with our in-store journey?
What are the challenges for the internal/external customer on our Go to Market process?
Once we know what that customer challenge is - then we work out if AI is the way to solve it by following a clear review process:
Do we have the data to assist with this problem? If not, move onto the next challenge for AI to solve as it will not solve everything. You will need to look at another way to solve that problem.
If the answer to this question is a yes then we need to ask what capability, including technology do we need to enable this and do we have this capability internally or do we need to look externally.
When implementing AI, the next stage is organisational change. You must educate the organisation and keep everyone on the journey. Ask how this affects the wider team and don’t be afraid to look at cross functional teams as this can help - Merch/Marketing/Ops/IT.
The last crucial point to ensure AI will work is that you must build a roadmap and keep working towards it otherwise you will get stuck down that deep rabbit hole with multiple paths and exits, or even worse - no exit!
What is the future of AI?
The accessibility for AI will grow exponentially. As it becomes more accessible in both price and understanding, everyone will be using it, and this will catapult customer experience and engagement within those brands and retail channels.
The biggest piece of advice we give to our clients who are looking at getting started in employing technology in their business is just that - START. If you don’t start you will be left behind. You may make a mistake along the way, you also may uncover some home truths about the way your business is operating. But as long as you, discover it, learn from it and adapt - you are moving in the right direction and setting your teams up for success.
Start with making a list of the 5 major pain points in your business and investigate if retail tech can assist with these areas so you can stay confidently in front of your competitor. If you need assistance in this area, please feel free to reach out and we can see if we can fast track you in the right direction.
Are you curious about optimising your businesses process and systems design through automation and process streamlining. Often your team will have been doing the same thing for so long they can't see the woods for the trees and wasting valuable time by doing repeatable processes that can be automated. It could be go-to-market processes for promotions, ticketing, you name it. Chat with Gina who is constantly working with businesses to implement best in class solutions saving considerable time and money.
email@example.com or 021 034 4800