If you don’t mind, I’m going to come straight to the point, in fact more than that, I need to get something off my chest. Which is exactly what I did on stage at the Retail Technology Show yesterday. More from the Show shortly.
Held at Olympia in London, I needed to take the train but because all the ticket machines were down, I was unable to purchase a ticket, either at the station or on the train. And so I was advised to purchase one when I arrived at Olympia.
Now, this is where it gets interesting. To get from East Grinstead to Olympia requires two operators. Southern Rail run the service from East Grinstead to Clapham Junction – where one has to change and use London Overground (operated by Transport for London) to get to Olympia.
On reaching the barrier at Olympia, I explain my situation and that I’d like to purchase a ticket, only to be met by an uncompromising look and a, “so you’ve travelled without a ticket? That means you’re fare dodging and I’m going to have to issue you with a fine”.
Now, at the time of writing I am appealing that, or rather, I’m telling Transport for London where to shove their fine but that’s not the point I am wishing to make. Because the point of this story is customer experience, or rather, a rather terrible one to put it mildly.
And the moral of it is that retailers and brands must never lose sight of their customer, and always look at the interaction with themselves through the eyes of their customer. It’s called customer empathy and sometimes (as was the case here) it is in rather short supply.
But that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the two days at the Retail Technology Show. Matt Bradley and his team are to be congratulated on putting on the first ‘in real life’ retail conference in London this year, and from all the people I spoke to, we were all glad to be back.
For me, it was both surreal and enjoyable in equal parts. Two days of chairing the main stage, interviews, meetings and get togethers flew by. Personal highlights were chatting with former Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe about the pressures and challenges impacting retail right now, interviewing Tinie Tempah and Sam Jones on stage and then unexpectedly having a beer with the one and only Jive Bunny – who by the way was hilarious!
But more than my fare dodging activities, what were the key retail trends emerging from the conference?
As one might expect, and reflected in today’s results from Sainsbury’s, inflationary pressures and the cost of living are central. This was also echoed in my discussion with Mike Coupe and the Future of Retail conference running in parallel with this. Driving operational efficiencies has never been more critical.
Morrisons were also on stage discussing their sustainability programme and from talking to their Sustainability Manager, Hannah Fox, it is a broader topic than merely driving electric cars and cutting back on plastic usage.
Physical & digital
One of the more interesting subjects explored was the merging of the physical and the digital, online and stores, and I was fortunate enough to be able to interview on stage, Mark Tailford from Oktium who are pioneering live video streaming and customer interaction either online or in store and are seeing impressive increases in conversion rates for their customers as a result.
And finally, both days finished off with a look into the future, asking the panel the question, what will retail be like in 2025?
From the responses it seems clear that AI and more effective use of data will drive better customer experiences and more relevant personalisation. Final mile fulfilment and delivery will continue to evolve both in terms of reliability and speed. Retailers will become more predictive in that they will continue to better understand customer behaviour. And coupled with that, demand and inventory management will be critical.
But perhaps the last word should go to Mike Coupe who told me that in his experience, retailers just need to make decisions, in the knowledge that they’ll likely only ever get approximately 50% of them right. But that’s no reason not to make the decision. The lesson being that retail is often ambiguous and retailers just need to get used to that.
Oh, and the metaverse? That’s for another day.