A Reflection on Retail Business Technology - Part One

James Beeson
11 March 2016
In a world where, arguably, almost everything is a commodity, personalised (and individual) relationships with customers is becoming critical.

The Rika team headed to London's Olympia for the retail business technology expo (#rbte2016) across 9-10th March to see first-hand how the retail sector is embracing digital technology. What we found was inspiring…

The (as expected) recurrent themes from the list of impressively big-brand speakers were data acquisition and analysis, the single customer view, contextual marketing and personalisation, and customer experience. Big themes with importance that their ‘buzzword’ status undermines. The highlight of Day One was, without doubt, the “Innovation in Retail” panel discussion hosted by Stephen Robertson (B&Q), Dharmash Mistry (CEO & Co-Founder of LoveFilm and Blow), Simon Roberts (Executive VP of Boots), Richard Wolff (COO of the Javelin Group) and Luke Jensen (Group Development Director, Sainsbury’s).

Being “Digital”
At Rika, we’ve spent time with partners and clients talking about what being ‘digital’ really means, and the panellists had their own take too. Speed and agility was paramount, as was the recognition that change (a.k.a. Digital Transformation) requires the entire organisation to adapt its skills, capability and, critically, its way of thinking. Tomorrow's C-Level will need inherent digital skills, including the ability to make decisions quickly and to understand and correctly interpret large amounts of data.

Perhaps most importantly, decision makers, influencers and implementers should be prepared to (we would say expected to) take risks, fail fast and not be afraid to make mistakes.

The panel were honest, confessing that organisations can't keep up with the pace of digital change

The panel were honest, however, about their own limitations, confessing that organisations (and their leadership) can't keep up with the pace of digital change and rely on external partners to guide and advise them, acting as important filters that remove the noise and leave the most relevant and game-changing thinking and technology as the loudest signal.

The Segment of One
In a world where, arguably, almost everything is a commodity, personalised (and individual) relationships with customers is becoming critical. The panel all agreed that brands need to give customers something of value - something that recognises that unique and individual moment in which they are transacting with you.

This recognition of individuality is The Segment of One.

What a great term that is; moving us away from the blunt instrument of the ‘Demographic’ and the sweepingly generalistic boxes like “Millennials”. The ability for retailers to truly understand the individual behaviours exhibited by their customers and to provide content, services and experiences based on that individualism will be a defining attribute of successful and enduring brands within the next year.

Check-in is the new Check-out
Building on the buzz-phrase of Customer Experience, one of the most sought-after developments in the retail sector is to transition the increasingly accurate picture already available about a customer the moment they enter your website, and take this knowledge into the physical store. Currently, all but the most forward-thinking (and deep-pocketed) brands can really know about who is in their stores is by the information given away from the use of debit/credit/loyalty cards at the pay-desk. But what if this ‘customer’ doesn’t actually buy anything and simply browses around, checking out your products whilst also checking out competitors’ prices on their smartphones?

New technologies such as LED intelligent lighting make beacons and other low-energy near-field techniques look distinctly last-year

True omnichannel awareness of the customer is still rare, but huge efforts are being made to implement technologies that will enable brands to know who you are as you enter their high-street store or mall unit. New technologies such as LED intelligent lighting, which can detect and communicate with the customer’s devices (inc. wearables), make beacons and other low-energy near-field techniques look distinctly last-year. Not only can the customer be detected as they check-in, but they can also be tracked as they move around the store, revealing what they look at, how long they dwell and how they interact with the store environment. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the power of this and, when coupled with the online realm, a truly 360-degree picture of customer behaviour can be known.

All of the panellists agreed that this future was closer than many realise. Of course, with this data comes a huge responsibility to not only protect the privacy of the consumer, but also to make use of the data in constructive and ethical ways. At RIKA, we don’t think the importance of this responsibility should be forgotten.

Simon Roberts, the top man at Boots UK, rounded off the session with a recognition that the digital platform that collects, analyses and responds to customer data is beyond valuable. A point underlined by the presence of Oracle, IBM, Adobe and myriad other vendors of advanced data collection and analytics platforms at the event.

So that was Day One, full of intelligent, inspiring and even surprising conversation. Our coverage of Day Two will be published shortly…


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