Retail technology in 2015: editor's picks

NRF 2015: Retail inspiration from San Francisco 49ers

NFL side San Francisco 49ers's new Levi's Stadium is being marketed as one of the most digitally-focused sports venues of all time, and it provides plenty of inspiration for the retail industry.

Among the technological features that have been rolled out at the venue – rarely seen at other sporting locations – include mobile ticketing services and accompanying kiosks where fans can scan their smartphones to enter the stadium.

A partnership with online company Yahoo! also helps provide in-stadium entertainment, with 49ers supporters able to interact with the photo and video sharing site Flickr, and Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football – with the opportunity of seeing their content broadcast on big screens. It is all underlined by a 40Gb per second bandwidth, which is expected to support the use of rich media by the 68,500-capacity crowd.

Plenty of food for thought for the global retail industry as the focus in 2015 continued on improving customer experience and engagement.

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'Simple failures of policy' contributing to rise in cybercrime

Battling rising cybercrime remained a real challenge for the retail and wider business worlds in 2015, and research released at the start of the year indicated that retailers felt cyber-attacks remained a critical threat to their organisations.

Security companies have suggested that the industry is not doing enough to counter the threat of hackers and new digitally-aware criminals.

Fending off attacks is expected to continue to play a prominent role in retailing going into the new year.

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Retailers hooked on 'Black Friday drug', says AO boss

Following the fallout from Black Friday 2014, CEO John Roberts likened retailers' Black Friday attitude to drug addiction and said "everyone knows" it is bad for the industry.

The AO boss acknowledged that this new addition to the UK festive period had caught a number of industry players by surprise, but acknowledged its is "here to stay" as a part of new-look peak trading.

"It's like a drug [and] the drug of low prices for the rest of the year is a difficult one for people to wean themselves off," he explained during a presentation at the MetaPack Delivery Conference in London.

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Interview: Starbucks brewing up new in-store services

Starbucks EMEA IT director Robert Teagle explained in detail to Essential Retail about the coffee chain's latest innovative plans, including wireless phone charging, 'mobile order and pay' and the future direction of mobile payments.

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John Lewis boss: Time for retailers to make some big calls

John Lewis managing director, Andy Street, called on retailers to "be bold" and continue to invest in technology, as he acknowledged the retailer's decision to make some "big calls" around technology, supply chain and general operations were crucial to the business's recent growth.

Talking at the British Retail Consortium's Omnichannel Retailing 2015 event, he revealed that the share of capital expenditure John Lewis directs towards IT has grown from 15% to 37% in recent years.

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RBTE 2015 Video: Retailers and suppliers reflect on successful show

John Lewis CIO Paul Coby, Star Micronics marketing director Annette Tarlton and representatives from a host of other visitors and exhibitors reflected on a positive two days for the retail industry at March's RBTE.

The event attracted more than 12,000 retail and retail-related professionals through its doors, with an top-level speaker line-up of retailers and an exhibition hall brimming with the latest technology aimed at helping businesses succeed in modern retailing.

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Apple Pay coming to the UK: Industry reaction

Apple Pay arrived in the UK market in July, and Essential Retail reported the expectations of retailers, payments companies, vendors and industry consultants.

Innovation in payments continued to be a prominent theme in 2015, with Samsung Pay and Google's Android Pay arriving on the scene and various mobile commerce initiatives gaining traction. The contactless payment limit in the UK also rose as cards and new technology took a larger slice of the overall payments pie. The way consumers pay is expected to change further in 2016.

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Interview: Oddbins eyes digital talent from rival retailer

Oddbins managing director Ayo Akintola confirmed to Essential Retail that he had been courting staff from rival retailer, Naked Wines, as he switched his focus to building a team that can take his company to a new level online.

"We wrote to them and said we'd like to have a conversation with them," he explained.

"We went the slightly creative way of sending them love letters. I'm getting some flak from the industry about poaching staff, but there are different ways in which you can poach from a rival company."

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Interview: Technology to play its part in Carpetright turnaround

In an exclusive interview at Carpetright's new-look store in Clapham, the retailer's CEO Wilf Walsh explained to Essential Retail how the business is using technology to help its turnaround strategy.

"Unlike other businesses, our store managers do not think that online is cannibalising sales in stores – it's actually driving people in," he noted.

"Carpet is the second best legal high smell after a marker pen; you need to be in a shop touching, feeling and smelling it because it's actually a sensory experience."

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New report shines spotlight on digital skills gap

With a growing need for data scientists, coders and digital natives, much has been expressed in 2015 about how retailers must plug a tech skills gap.

According to a government report, the idea that recruiting technically skilled people and upskilling the existing workforce will be crucial for the retail sector to take full advantage of the changing business landscape.

Retailers needs to attract graduates and workers with digital and customer services skills to boost productivity in the sector, said the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

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In pictures: Italian Coop offers glimpse of grocery's future

Essential Retail visited Italian grocery chain Coop's Supermarket of the Future at Expo 2015 in Milan.

It was full of digital signage, computerised fridges and real-time data screens, but when does future thinking become reality?

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Tommy Hilfiger stores to give customers virtual reality experience

With the commercial launch of Oculus Rift set for 2016, virtual (VR) reality technology is going to fall under the spotlight next year.

There are already a number of retailers experimenting with VR, including Tommy Hilfiger which is using the tech to place its store customers on the front row of its famous runway shows. Customers shopping in the business's 5th Avenue store in New York City have an opportunity to wear a headset and experience Tommy's autumn collection runway show, in 3D.

The immersive experience is being rolled out to Tommy stores in London, Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Florence, Zurich and Moscow, in due course.

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M&S CTO Matt Horwood on today's retail tech climate

While many of the aforementioned articles reflect on a busy year of change and new strategy in retail, Marks & Spencer CTO Matt Horwood – who features in this final piece – focuses on some key trends that may have future implications for his business and other retailers.

Speaking at the Fujitsu Forum in Munich, in November, Horwood offers his opinion on a host of new technologies that have the potential to disrupt retail even further in the coming years.

His views on smart mirrors, augmented reality, 3D printing and driverless cars make for intriguing reading.

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Merry Christmas everyone, and happy new year. Essential Retail will return with its regular news service on 4 January 2016. @bsillitoe