Opinion: hi-tech vs hi-touch is a retail see-saw says Nigel Collett

In McCann’s fascinating ‘Truth About Shopping’ survey this year some findings literally jump right off the page and act as predictors of how retailers should be thinking about their stores over the coming few years.

Firstly, it is clear that a major question is presenting itself: how do you keep the art of shopping alive in the age of algorithms? It seems, from what we read in the latest research, that this can only be achieved if we focus on the ‘art of shopping’ in order to balance ‘the science of shopping.’

McCann’s research, conducted globally, reveals that a staggering 52% of people say shopping has now become too impersonal causing them to show concerns about reliance on algorithms to dictate purchases. Meanwhile, a huge 66% of people are looking to be inspired when they shop, seeking the human and personal touch increasingly becoming lost amidst a wave of algorithm-based personalisation.

It’s clear from these insights that retailers should be directing their thinking to how they can blend technology and the physical retail experience to provide stores that answer everybody’s needs.

Clearly the majority of people are happy with technology and ready to embrace the ‘smart store’ of the future. Again the figures back this up, with 71% welcoming technology such as interactive walls, retinal scans and fingerprint recognition, whilst 70% also say that mobiles may be a good tool for browsing but not for buying.

A balance is clearly needed between hi-tech and hi-touch as Andy Murray, SVP of Creative at Walmart recently pointed out. McCann’s survey shows that the majority of consumers are inspired while shopping, rather than going shopping because they’re inspired. But this good news throws down a very challenging gauntlet to retailers and designers, how do we keep shoppers inspired and engaged and coming back for more?

Nigel Collett is CEO of rpa:group. The agency is exhibiting in the Designer Pavilion at Retail Design Expo