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Musings on RBTE 2018 & Oxford Street

I have been to the NRF show for the better part of the last 15+ years but had not ventured out to the large retail tech shows in the other markets. Now that I am an independent (I do sales consulting for non-US based firms looking to sell into the US marketplace) I wanted the chance to engage with a European and international clientele and see what ‘retail tech’ looks like elsewhere.

With that in mind, I went to the Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE) at London Olympia, earlier this month. The show appeared to be well attended and had a sampling of capabilities across the spectrum. There were though in my tour of the floor and in speaking with several of the vendors some patterns that did appear to shine through.

The store still matters

There is a reason why Warby Parker, the online retailer of prescription glasses, just opened up a store a few miles for me in the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver, Colorado. The store is still relevant and matters. I saw many capabilities at the show that put the store at the center point of the experience. There were capabilities that support the experience in the store operationally, as an example, StorIQ, a cloud-based platform that provides store communications, task management and store reviews. There were also platforms that supported the store facet of the omnichannel customer experience. Platforms like Mercaux, which enables in-store digital transformation, specifically, clientelling and other features that tie-in inventory and client information across off and online, to enable upsell, personal shopping and save-the-sale.

There were several platforms and capabilities that provided footfall analytics, capabilities that can be used to assess and get in front of queue formation and staffing needs, to best serve clients. One such capability was Hoxton Analytics. Hoxton cameras point to the ground, so demographic and other intelligence can be gathered while preserving client privacy. Rich dashboards were also provided as part of this capability and many others I saw at the show.

The show staff also awarded an Innovation Award (Ed. Note: RSR participated as a judge in the awards program). The prize went to a vendor that is driving excitement in the store and at the shelf edge; Tokinomo, a company that offers a smart device that makes a product move and talk at the shelf edge. Imagine walking down the cereal aisle of the grocery store and having a box of cereal move off the shelf edge and talk to you. At the very least, unless the device is overly installed, it will catch the attention of the passersby.

Use Of AI in practical ways & to drive a business benefit

Artificial intelligence (AI) will have profound impact on most markets and retail will be heavily impacted as well, from back office to customer engagement processes. I saw a lot of practical ways at the show that AI could benefit the customer and retailers. Several vendors that were in this market space, including Stylumia. The Stylumia capability uses machine learning to provide customer insights on fashion trends, not an easy area to forecast and one that today at least takes a little bit of science and a lot of ‘art’. Catchoom was another AI vendor at the show. Their AI capability focuses on the image recognition space and allows users to click on items they see in magazines to be taken directly to purchase information. If you have ever seen something you wanted to buy in a magazine but didn’t know how to directly purchase it, this capability helps to that end. And Soyooz offers an AI capability that helps customers find the right product fit, not an easy thing if, let’s say, you’re looking for new mountain climbing gear, or any number of products and markets that involves detailed product information and complex decision making. AI is in its relatively early stages, especially as relates to the retail space, so the capabilities out now are just the tip of the spear for what could be. Much more to come in this space in the future.

What I didn’t see… & thoughts from the high street

In spending two days at the RBTE show, what I didn’t see was a lot of bright, shiny objects. I didn’t see a lot of magic mirrors and superfluous customer facing ‘shiny’ technologies. What I did see was a lot of capability that would drive real business value and do so practically. Enactor is one such example. The platform is an omnichannel commerce platform that includes mobile POS and loyalty applications, among other capabilities, but it is built with a services platform and construct; clients can pick and choose capabilities that make sense in their environments and drive the strongest business value. Phygital Mind was another company and capability that is rooted in practical business value. The company touts itself as an in-store digitization platform. Capabilities include omnichannel commerce, along with assisted selling applications.

'Practical' extended far out beyond the show to the high street of London. One of my first stops was the flagship John Lewis department store on Oxford Street. I searched frantically for ‘shiny’ customer facing technologies in the store and couldn’t find any. I spoke with a manager there who said some of the customer-facing capabilities had been removed and that they were siphoning the money into the back-end and their fulfillment processes. In other words, they were moving money to support the fulfillment and supply chain for a connected commerce experience for their customers. Same for SelfridgesZara and all the other Oxford Street stores that I went into. I didn’t necessarily see customer facing technologies, but I did see sales associates at all the stores buzzing around with iPhones attached to their hips. They used them for inventory look-up information for save the sale and for other internal use business processes (form factors were small-sized, like an iPhone, so not something that was used for customer-facing).

The stores were slammed on Oxford Street and customers were everywhere. The omnichannel messages are playing themselves out and shoppers are flocking to stores.

Tracy De Cicco is the founder and principal of global sales consulting firm, Konposit. She helps non-US-based companies penetrate and sell into the US market. She can be reached at tdecicco@konposit.com

This article was first published on RSR Research.