Q&A: Matt Bradley, event director, RBTE

With Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE) ready to open its doors to the retail industry in less than a month, Essential Retail caught up with event director Matt Bradley to find out what’s new and what’s unmissable at this year’s event

In the year that has passed since the last RBTE, what are the biggest changes or evolutions that have affected retailers?

Amazon. The global brand is a force that appears almost unstoppable. Its range of choice and convenience, plus its continued development of new ideas and technologies, makes it very hard for retailers to keep up with. Consumers are starting to believe that the Amazon way is the norm and expect high street retailers to match it.

RBTE is now in its eighth year. What makes the event so popular?

Its relevance. One of our most important jobs is to fully represent the challenges facing retailers today and make an educated prediction about the challenges of tomorrow. Since the launch of RBTE, the event team have made it their mission to become fully integrated in the retail community. We have a huge network of suppliers, retailers and influencers who along with our digital news platform, Essential Retail, keep us up to date with the ever-evolving world of retail. It’s this information and insight that form large parts of the conference programme and the themes of the show itself.

Matt Bradley, Event Director, RBTE
Matt Bradley, Event Director, RBTE

How does RBTE help retailers address the challenges of operating in the industry today?

The retail industry is going through a very exciting transformation. Hundreds of disruptive companies joining the mix has caused certain levels of confusion. Then add this to the usual list of questions; What makes a good customer experience? How can I promote better brand loyalty? How do I engage with the shopper of the future? How can I gain a competitive edge? What are my investment priorities? There is a lot going on for retailers.

RBTE is a pretty simple concept, which I believe has always been one of its strengths. We consider the challenges facing retailers and organise a conference programme full of the industry’s leading minds to help arm retailers with the ideas they need to solve these challenges. We combine this with an exhibition floor of over 300 of the world’s leading suppliers who can provide the tools needed to solve challenges and uncover unknown possibilities. This is a very powerful combination that aims to provide clarity for retailers in today’s crowded market. We know the most valuable commodity for our visitors is time, and consequently, the RBTE team continue to work hard to ensure that every second spent at RBTE is useful, enlightening and simply cannot be missed. 

What can delegates expect from this year’s RBTE?

Innovation is the key. Technology must be engaging and functional, but must also solve a problem or make a difference. Ninety nine percent of meetings I’ve had with retailers have highlighted that understanding what’s new in the industry is high on their priority list. As Europe’s leading event for retail solutions, we have a responsibility to provide this information.

Giving start-ups a genuine platform to connect with retailers is a hugely exciting addition to this year’s show. The Discovery Zone will provide a focus on the future, hosting the most exciting, innovative start-ups the industry has to offer. All will be on hand to demo and discuss the solutions that can make a real difference to problems facing retailers today. But that’s just the start, it’s a big world out there and it would have been short-sighted to just focus on UK start-ups.

Innovation is happening everywhere, and together with Business France, we have handpicked 14 of the best French suppliers to showcase the very latest solutions from Europe. That’s not all… A ‘Store of the Future’ is being developed especially for RBTE!  This will give visitors an end-to-end interactive opportunity to see how they could adopt the newest tech in their own stores and experience what their customers could potentially experience! 

This is all designed to provide visitors with a first-hand look at the capabilities of innovation and an insight into the future of retail.

Consumers are starting to believe that the Amazon way is the norm and expect high street retailers to match it

What are you most excited about for RBTE 2018?

Everything. What’s not to be excited about?  I’m currently looking at some of the stand designs for approval and truthfully I’ve been blown away by what has been submitted. Visually, the show will look stunning. The focus on innovation in The Discovery Zone is something that excites us all and was truly born out of visitor demand. We opened the Innovation Awards for entries a few weeks ago and have had hundreds of responses, including some of the companies that you might not expect to hear from. Entries include some very exciting new solutions, so I expect the whole show to be really interactive. The conference programme has heavyweight speakers from John Lewis, M&S and The Co-op who will share their expert views of the where the industry is currently at and more importantly, where it’s going.  Our futurologists will give visitors some fascinating insights that could truly help shape major decisions going forward.

Finally, the enormous amount of networking and idea-sharing that goes on is always exciting. Those who have exhibited or attended over the years know that I have a specific spot on the balcony where I spend a lot of the time looking over the show. Even after all these years, hearing the buzz of people meeting new contacts and catching up with old ones still brings a smile to my face. 

RFID technology will be paramount in ensuring real time inventory, allowing customers to purchase across any channel with confidence

You’ve talked a lot about the future and the futurologists that will be speaking at the show, but what are your own personal predictions for the future of the retail industry?

With new technologies and shopping habits being identified all the time, it’s incredibly difficult to predict long term changes, so I’ll try and focus on a couple of  short term trends. Bricks and mortar stores will continue their focus on impeccable customer experience. The ongoing threat from Amazon will require that retailers put focus on one of their few competitive edges - interaction with a human. Personalising this experience - through a single view of the customer by empowering sales staff to have access to in store and online purchase history - will play a major part in delivering a unique shopping experience for all. The lines between the channels will continue to merge as shoppers will demand to shop their way. This will drive a new wave of fluid shopping that retailers must be able to adapt to. RFID technology will be paramount in ensuring real time inventory, allowing customers to purchase across any channel with confidence. I also think the payments industry is fascinating right now, with some of the most disruptive and emerging technology. Exploring biometrics, NFC and voice commerce will be high on many retailers’ ‘to do’ list.

RBTE takes place at London’s Olympia, 2-3 May 2018.

You can register to attend here: http://bit.ly/RBTE18_ER