Where worlds collide

Gone are the days when buying something involved simply going to the shop, browsing the available products, paying by cheque or cash and then taking them home to enjoy.

Yes, at points we dared to explore exciting alternatives such as catalogue buying or the Argos in shop product number purchase service (inadvertently stealing the small little pens in the process) but on the whole, life was simple. You saw a product, you picked it up and if you liked it, you bought it and took it home with you.

All has changed over the last few years, retail and technology are converging at ever increasing rates. Payment has seen cash and cheque replaced by a myriad of ways to pay including phone, watch, tapping your card on the payment machine or (if you are really adventurous) bitcoin. Browsing products is now dominated by online opportunities including systems that monitor your buying patterns and promote products that follow your trends and preferences and as for delivery, same day delivery systems, collection points, drones and even 3D printing are all starting to make their presence known.

National law firm, Ashfords in conjunction with Loudhouse have recently conducted a comprehensive review of how technology and retail are converging to enhance (depending on perspective of course) the retail experience. Over 200 major retailers and 50 IT providers were interviewed to ascertain their views the current use of technology and where it is likely to go over the next 5 years.

The results of the survey have highlighted just how fluid the retail and technology markets currently are and how innovation sits at the heart of a retailers key drive to provide goods and services that meet the demands of their customers. The research suggests that the technological revolution in the retail sector is in its infancy and both retail and technology providers believe that the landscape will continue to change rapidly.

Some of the key statistics derived from the research include:

  • 78% of those interviewed believe that the best is yet to come and that we have not seen the real advances in retail technology;
  • 82% of technology providers believe they will be working in a more collaborative way with retailers in the next decade;
  • 60% of retailers are already investing significantly in their IT systems to improve customer service;
  • 20% of retailers believe they will be testing drone delivery with the next 5 years.

Over 60% of retailers actually believed their physical store presence will increase however interestingly over 66% of retailers and 74% of technology providers believe that the physical store will become a place to see and sample the goods you are considering buying rather than actually purchasing them at that time. Orwell's 1984 may still seem far-fetched and scary but retailers clearly envisage technology enabling them to provide a bespoke experience to meet customer buying preferences. Stores will transition to predominately acting as viewing platforms with goods being reserved and then delivered with rapid ease to your preferred destination. No more heavy carrying or having to pay for the bag to carry them in!

We are clearly in a transitional period for the retail and technology industries. Recent cyber attacks at TalkTalk, Vodafone and Sony have highlighted the dangers that technological advancement brings and the sector will need to work hard to maximise the opportunities innovation brings whilst allaying consumer fears.

It is perhaps unsurprising that collaboration was seen as key to the successful integration of technology into the retail experience.

The Ashfords research indicates that there is still a disconnect in the way the two sectors are currently working with each other, especially in terms of who is meant to be driving innovation forward. Is it the retailer, the technology provider or is it actually the customer that determines where and how technology and retail come together?

What is clear is that our retail experience is undergoing massive change and that this is only the beginning.

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