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Seb James, senior vice president and managing director of Boots UK, at Retail Week Live 2019

Retail Week Live 2019: Retail leaders focus on impact of automation

By Retail Technology | Friday March 29 2019

Automation was high a theme on retail leaders’ agendas as they converged from around the world on London this week

They converged on Retail Week’s annual Live conference to discuss industry challenges and emerging solutions.

The challenges were founded on the impact of the migration of sales online and the subsequent structural implications on store-based operations and growth. But the solutions were largely technology-based.

Judith McKenna, Walmart International president and CEO, set the tone with her opening keynote, highlighting that McKinsey predicts 60% of jobs will be affected by automation in some capacity. 

She said: “Tech should create the opportunity to run better businesses, create growth and improve lives… but we have to ensure the benefits of new technology are shared as fully, fairly and quickly as possible.”

McKenna also urged retailers to take a lead in training workforces for the transition to more AI-driven operations and management within their own organisations and in public debate of policy agendas. 

Technology-fuelled competition

Amazon, as one of the world’s most tech-driven companies, was the focus of a panel discussion on how to capitalise on its dominance to enhance market opportunities. 

Given half of all clothing searches go through Amazon, Miriam Pritchard, CEO, said: “So if you want to be on the market square, you have to go to Amazon, because that’s where the customers are.”

Peter Prichard, Pets at Home CEO, said Amazon’s approach also provides for speciality differentiation: “If you put price to one side, we have to be as good and better for choice, convenience, relevancy and trust.”

He added: “We understand emotion. While everyone is doing digital, we have a super power: our people. Most are starving their retail models of people and we’re doing the reverse.”

Enhancing customer engagement 

Seb James, senior vice president and managing director of Boots UK, told delegates: “Right now, we treat you the same if you’re coming to buy a £130 face cream or £1 tube of toothpaste. That has to change.”

In his presentation, which focused on using heritage as an asset in a fast-changing world, James also highlighted the role tech had to play in the future of the 170-year-old pharmacy and health & beauty retailer.

“The development of AI models to help with early diagnosis is going revolutionise primary healthcare and we have to part of that. We’re also about to launch the best UK online retail search to make our content visible.”

Focusing on more store-based technology solutions, Polo Ralph Lauren shared details of a new mobile promotional marketing trial to increase in-store redemption rates, sales conversion and frequency.

Malene Da Silva, Polo Ralph Lauren EMEA retail marketing director, said using SMS short codes to drive downloads of promotional mobile wallet passes had exceeded expectations and was moving to full rollout.

She said: “With a 2% footfall target and an actual 4% increase, a clickthrough rate of 30% was better than email in driving wallet downloads. We also had great engagement and good sales conversion metrics.”

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