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The innovation game

By Retail Technology | Monday April 23 2018

The 18th World Retail Congress took place last week in Madrid and Retail Reflections founder Andrew Busby was there to find out all the tech news and trends happening in international retailing

“Innovate to Win” that was the theme of this year’s conference and just how appropriate that was very quickly became evident. Innovation, speed, agility, change, technology were the watchwords for three days of retail immersion. The outcome? 

For all those young digitally native start-ups it was a welcome endorsement of their strategies, but for the more well established bricks and mortar retailers in the room it represented a very scary warning that life is just about to get a whole lot tougher.

Creative approach 

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. 

While data and technology now form the backbone of retail, we are firmly 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”.

This was a theme which was constantly echoed as Richard Liu, chairman said “Innovate and change and do it every day otherwise you will be gone” while 
Google’s Martijn Bertisen added “If you’re not obsessed with speed, you’re probably obsessing about the wrong thing.”

Fast adoption 

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.

Avery Baker, chief brand officer at Tommy Hilfiger said: “Iterate relentlessly…..if you’re operating by the old rules, it’s probably killing you”.

As online continues to grow but still accounts for just 17.2% of total retail sales (according to ONS) in-store experience is now a subject of much debate also.

Store design combined with technology is perhaps 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, also 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”.

Artificial intelligence 

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, explained: “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.


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