Plenty of good news for retailers!
Last week we attended RetailEXPO, formerly RBTE, RDSE and RDE, in London. We’ve attended RBTE for the last several years, so we were interested to see how this new event would compare.
RetailEXPO was a great opportunity to discover the latest in retail — from store design and digital signage, all the way to the hottest innovations and insights in retail tech — the stuff we love. However, we did miss seeing some of the big tech innovators who also play a part in advancing retail like Google, AWS, Salesforce, and Microsoft who we’ve become used to seeing at global retail events.
On the other hand, in terms of startups and innovation, we’re glad to hear that next year, the organizers will be opening up a larger area on the ground floor near the entrance specifically to give these players better visibility. This will certainly be an improvement, since this year they were a bit hidden from view on the upper floor of the Olympia.
All that’s not to say that we weren’t able to glean plenty of insight at RetailEXPO! We’ve rounded up what we think are the three best pieces of news for retailers in our quickly changing market.
Here’s what we learned!
Authentic brands with robust tech win over younger consumers
There were numerous sessions held on how retailers can, and should, engage younger customers who barely resemble their Babyboomer and Gen X predecessors. Business expert and TV reporter, Kate Hardcastle said that unlike older consumer groups, digital-native Millennial and Gen Z demographics (and yes, we’re even starting to talk about Alphas) do not tolerate under-promises to deliver.
Hardcastle said that this was particularly true when it comes to social initiatives that are not perceived to be authentic as well as the technology implemented to digitize the shopping experience. Any technology meant to enhance the retail experience must be robust enough to work simply, every time, stressing, “Ensure you are meeting the needs of the customers of the future, not the customers of the past.”
Ensure you are meeting the needs of the customers of the future, not the customers of the past.
— Kate Hardcastle, Business expert and TV reporter
Katie Baron, Head of Retail at Stylus, gave plenty of advice specifically on the highly “fetishized” Gen Z, who are more risk-averse, pragmatic, and reassurance-seeking than their elders, and that brands have an opportunity to transcend traditional retail — something this generation truly values.
A few of our favorite examples that Baron gave of brands that are winning over Gen Z:
- Depop — A platform for small-scale shops and micro-fan brands with physical stores in NY and LA which include a production studio and hangout/art/exhibition space.
- Collusion — ASOS’s brand for Gen Z built around gender fluidity and affordability, meant to take the brand into new territories.
- Burberry B series — Baron noted that offering episodic retail and structured media makes it easier to cut through the digital noise and have sticking power. By dropping new products on the 17th of each month, Burberry helps digital natives to tune in.
The “retailpocalypse” hasn’t happened yet and probably won’t
Even with all the hype surrounding the startling number of store closures, the often discussed “retailpocalypse” argument is losing steam. In his keynote session, Justin King, former Sainsbury CEO, said that despite media reports to the contrary, this is not the demise of brick and mortar. In fact, the revenue being driven offline in the UK is almost exactly the same as 10 years ago.
People have been quick to fear the worst for two reasons: it’s an easy assumption to make without the bigger picture in focus, and because of an outdated idea of what retail should be or look like. Stores are closing in one place and opening in another, in different formats, and morphing with e-commerce.
King said the end-of-days argument is irrelevant or at least misdirected. In time, we won’t distinguish between the offline and online experience. In an interview after the session, King said, “In truth, what makes this industry so fantastic, is that it always has been, and always will be, a fast-changing industry.”
Robots, automation, and AI: Friends, not foes!
We met Softbank’s Pepper*, the humanoid AI robot that was built to connect, assist, and share knowledge with us simple humans. With a face that cute, it’s hard to imagine being fearful of a hostile takeover. But alas, the idea that robotics, automation, and AI (let’s just call this “raAI” from now on) may get a little too real still generates unease for some, especially when it comes to retail jobs.
During a panel discussion on the topic, three expert panelists quelled fears. They agreed that while raAI has taken some highly tedious, repetitive, and even painful jobs for humans, it will create new jobs and free up time which can be better spent on creative and strategic work. Besides, there are some aspects of the retail experience that will always require a human touch such as providing emotional connections.
This is a message that is starting to come through from retailers as well. At the recent Tawteen360 Student Forum in a session specifically covering the effects of digital trends on the job market, Charbel Lahoud, Head of Digital Scouting at Chalhoub Group**, said, “In the past, jobs were about muscles. Now they are about brains. In the future, they will be about the heart.”
In terms of bottom-line, raAI will have a major impact as more processes become automated and more inefficiencies removed. While Jonathan Boiria, Softbank Head of Sales for EMEA, noted that it is more challenging to transform offline than online, but it will be done and is where brands will compete.
And at Nextail, we fully support these conclusions. What we want for our customers is improved and automated retail decision-making, removal of inefficiencies, and a better bottom-line. We do this through AI, big data, automation, and machine learning to enhance and empower retailers, all in the name of giving customers the best experience possible.
*And if you want to, you can follow Pepper on Twitter: @PepperTheRobot The question is, does Pepper run the account? 🤔
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