The 18th World Retail Congress took place last week in Madrid; Retail Reflections’ Andrew Busby was there to find out all the tech news and trends happening in international retailing. One thing was clear – the digital natives referred to in the title are changing the rules of retail and it’s happening at warp speed.
Here we take a look back at some of the things people were saying at the conference.
“Innovate to Win” was the theme of this year’s conference and just how appropriate that was became evident very quickly.
Innovation, speed, agility, change, technology - these were the watchwords for three days of retail immersion. The outcome?
For all those young digitally native start-ups – a welcome endorsement of their strategies. But for the more well established bricks and mortar retailers in the room – a very scary warning that life is just about to get a whole lot tougher.
As if we didn’t already know it, 2018 is set to be a year of innovation, disruption and staying ahead of the curve. Maximising the use of technology and a creative approach to keep customers engaged is imperative.
Whilst data and technology now form the backbone of retail, we are now in an era where the pace of change is relentless, as Chairman of Emaar, Mohamed Alabbar put it: “We should change as often as we get an update on our phone”.
A theme which was constantly echoed; Richard Liu, Chairman JD.com went further:
“Innovate and change and do it every day otherwise you will be gone”
And Google’s Martijn Bertisen had this to say:
“If you’re not obsessed with speed, you’re probably obsessing about the wrong thing.
Rapid ultra fast adoption of technology is undoubtedly now at the core of modern retailing but combined with a willingness to realise that the rules have changed.
“Iterate relentlessly…..if you’re operating by the old rules, it’s probably killing you” Avery Baker, Chief Brand Officer Tommy Hilfiger.
As online continues to grow but still accounts for just 17.2% of total retail sales (source: ONS) in-store experience is now a subject of much discussion.
Store design combined with technology is the future of customer experience and as we learnt from Matt Drinkwater, who heads up fashion technology at the London School of Fashion; “If I had to pick one technology which will transform the in-store experience it would be augmented reality”.
Tom Athron, Group Development Director at John Lewis stressed that the department store “will give jobs to computers that humans used to do” in order to stay efficient and therefore competitive. However, he also said that “you walk away from the power of the human at your peril”.
But perhaps it is fitting that the last word goes to what has rapidly become the key topic of nearly every conversation when discussing retail technology: Artificial Intelligence.
Deborah Weinswig, CEO at Coresight Research:
“Artificial Intelligence is the biggest technology in retail right now. A lot of the conversation has focused on personalisation and communication such as chatbots. We see the more meaningful application behind the scenes, especially in inventory management and price optimisation. These can directly impact availability, markdowns and full-price sales”
So, if you’re a retailer yet to embrace the power of Artificial Intelligence, the advice from the conference was to do so now……and now means now, not tomorrow or the next day.
There are plenty of young digital native start-ups just waiting to take centre stage – and as Chairman of Emaar, Mohamed Alabbar said - "these people sleep in their offices".
Andrew Busby is a Keynote Speaker & Analyst, Founder & CEO of Retail Reflections and an IBM Futurist