What’s next for retail technology?

Martha Hughes

by Martha Hughes-Content Marketing Manager|Tue May 02 2023

Our top insights from Europe’s biggest Retail event

From problem-solving AI to the gamification of shopping; there were predictions aplenty at this year’s Retail Technology Show.  

With numerous big retail brands gathered alongside Europe’s top tech innovators at London’s Olympia, there was no shortage of discussion around current and future industry trends.

So what did we learn from the likes of Bloom & Wild, Curry’s, Deliveroo, Furniture Village and Co-op?  

Read on for our top insights from a brilliant two days of knowledge sharing.

What's next for retail technology image

Making the unknown shopper known  

Removing shopper anonymity to provide a more personalised experience is a problem which looms large for many retailers.

Knowing your shopper with context is key for success; the personalisation of customer dialog allows for a consistent, enjoyable omnichannel customer experience. But how is that possible?

There are a variety of approaches taken to tackle this ongoing retail issue, from swapping out barcodes for QR codes to encourage loyalty program sign-ups, to rolling out an Amazon Fresh type model where signing up is essential before entering the store. But it often comes back to value. What’s in it for the customer?

A great way to do this is making it really easy to refer a friend to join. The referral itself, and retrieving the reward, should be simple for both customers; this is the time to leverage your tech, or look at how you can adapt your technology to remove barriers to and speed up onboarding. 

Be selective when onboarding new technology – not everything is going to stick 

We all remember when chatbots first appeared; heralded as the ultimate tool to automate dialog with customers and reduce costs and overheads. 

But it was clear from the show that many brands are finding customers have fast become fatigued with the impersonal and repetitive experience chatbots provide.

During a discussion around Omnichannel Challenges, Business Development Director Mike Broughton of Furniture Village shared that his customers wanted to talk to an expert instead of a bot. Customers valued expertise over convenience; the company trialled a chatbot vs experts monitoring live chat, and they found the difference in customer response was incredible. 

Chatbots have a role to play, but it pays to be selective about what technology you adopt to do which job. 

Innovation expert Paul Wilkson (Product Leader at Deliveroo and formerly Tesco and Amazon) recommended a ruthless prioritisation and focus on the initiatives which deliver the biggest impact to customers and the company. 

Weighing up risk and reward is key, especially when it comes to technology, and you have to invest in the long game. 

Stop pulling data for the sake of it, or risk losing customers 

An obsession with data to enable decision making is what underpins much of Bloom & Wild’s success when it comes to customer loyalty. 

But Director of Business Intelligence and Analytics Mairead Masterson warned heavily against pulling data for the sake of it. It’s worth nothing if it’s not used.

Dashboards full of data points and vanity metrics will take you so far, but the real value comes from identifying the commercial impact and working out which pieces of data fit into that. 

If you miss the more insightful data points because you’re preoccupied with unused data, you risk losing out on the opportunity to turn a one-time purchaser into a loyal, frequent customer. Picking out pieces of data that tie to an emotion are key - especially for more emotional purchases such as gifts, flowers, or even some foods. 

We don’t have time to get personalisation wrong - find the “Goldilocks Offer”

The personalisation bandwagon was at full speed around the halls of Olympia, but you don’t always have multiple chances to get personalisation right.

Curry’s Head of Decision Sciences, Robert Bates, explained how the Curry’s Perks scheme is working tirelessly to ensure it gets personalised offers less wrong at the start of a customer’s journey with their brand. 

First offers are crucial; when you get these wrong the level of response or action dips dramatically because customers will quickly smell a rat. You need to find as Robert calls it, the “Goldilocks Offer” - the deal which is “just right” for your customer.

You might not get the offer right first time, but the quicker you can apply learnings across a broader and higher level, the sooner you can deliver a positive personalised experience. It’s probably time to stop using blanket offers and start using technology to better listen and respond to customer needs.

Leverage your technology to create customer routines and habits 

Another recurring theme from multiple talks across several brands was using technology to help build customer routines. It’s all well and good to have an aesthetically pleasing app which promises the world, but if your tech isn’t encouraging retail routines, you’re missing out on a big opportunity. 

This is something the Co-op has managed to master since digitising its customer loyalty scheme. Weekly, personalised offers are loaded onto the member app each Monday, creating part of the Co-op’s “trigger, routine, reward” strategy.

Members have shared how they genuinely look forward to this routine and “get happy when they see the notification”. The reassurance of routine “cheers them up” each Monday (which let’s face it, is not usually a favourite day of the week).  

This emotional connection to shopping habits with the Co-op allows the brand to strengthen the relationship with its customers, while also readily acknowledging it’s not the most important thing in customers’ lives. But it can still become a small part of their lives in a way which positively impacts Co-op, its members and their community. 

In a nutshell

Targeted greetings as you walk into a store, facial recognition and self scanning automation are all happening, but the real potential feels like it’s firmly to be found in using technology to help make the basics even better. Be selective with your technology, know who your customers are, use data to personalise where possible and reassure with routine.

If you’d like to find out more about our experience in retail or share some of yours, we’d love to hear from you…

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