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Future of Retail 2019

How retailers can create a thriving sector in the digital era

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Poppie Mickleburgh

Event Director, Tech.

The digital revolution has triggered the greatest period of change in the history of commerce. Technology has destroyed business models that have been the bedrock of the sector for decades, but it has also unlocked new opportunities at an unprecedented pace for those agile and strategic enough to seize them.


Recent research by Tech. found that this year global technology retail spending will near $203.6 billion; a 3.6% increase from 2018. AI, robotics and payment innovation plans in particular are set to advance. In the UK, a third of retailers look to invest up to half a million pounds on technology over the next 18 months, in the US three quarters of retailers recognise the growing urgency for digital transformation and in France 50% of retailers are deploying robotics.

Many retailers are playing catch up – determined to embrace the technological possibilities that stand before them but overwhelmed by the many solutions that claim to hold the silver bullet to success. The bottom line is that, aside from the many glittering promises of technology, the fundamental connection with the customer is still key.

Commerce businesses must look past the individual tech solutions and place their relationships with customers at the heart of their business models. To do this they need to break down silos, build new capabilities, and create the right digital infrastructure to support this.

Retail has already started adapting, with more ‘always emerging’

There are many impressive examples of retailers utilising data and partnerships with technology providers to better understand their unique customer and the role their products and services play in the lives of their target market. Fashion brand Asos, for example, is using visual search to allow their customers to take a picture of an item they like in a shop and find a similar item on their website. This time-saving and convenient technology has also been snapped up by other retailers, as 45% of retailers, including M&S, eBay and Argos, now claim to use visual search.

In the US, Amazon Go is also heavily investing, and reaping the rewards, of digital transformation. Their AI-powered carts allow customers to collect all the items they need in their shopping trolley and pay through a card machine attached to each cart. Other supermarkets could learn a great deal from Amazon Go, by providing their customers with a seamless and stress-free experience; no customers are left feeling frustrated or bored in the queue.

These new technologies, along with the hundreds of other ‘always emerging’ examples, unlock a level of potential that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. The wide range of examples are fascinating and international peers could learn a lot from one another.

Retail Week launched Tech. Festival in response to the disruption that technology continues to have on the retail industry. Tech. is a multinational gathering of 3,000 attendees (including retailers, start-ups, brands, FMCGs and leading universities), and invites those who are looking to prosper and thrive in our booming digital age to make connections and ensure the industry thrives in the digital era. 

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