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Future-gazing blog: Keeping up with the pace of change

In quite an eventful few days for British retailers, we have seen Budgens and Londis sold to Booker, giving the wholesaler almost 10% of the UK convenience market (although this purchase is to yet be ratified by the MMC).

The Daily Mail also continued its campaign against self-checkouts and automation installed in retailers and banks, quoting real people with real problems and real issues. One of my mantras has been that customers will not deal with retailers who do not treat them in the way they wish. The "trust us – we know best" approach to customer service epitomised by the use of technology perceived to reduce retailers' costs rather than assist customers is in full retreat and is being avoided by technology-aware customers who will not accept poor service, or indeed any type of service they do not like.

This changing face of the food marketplace in the UK means that innovators need to change the point of attack in providing useful technology to retailers. Smaller convenience stores have less room for bulky self-checkouts and need more, real, customer assistance in-store. So what are the new areas for innovation in this changing target marketplace?

In a recent article in The Grocer, written by Tony Middleton, eco-label fraud was highlighted as the next big global issue facing retailers and consumers. The desire of customers to support ethical products and producers opens up the real possibility of fraudsters targeting the market by using sophisticated fraudulent labelling. He points to the near impossibility of counterfeiting the supply chain information which should be included with the product, and I predict a high return for the organisation that can harness the new technologies around the Internet of Things to provide fraud prevention and a reassurance to customers that the food they buy is genuine.

Beyond food, in the speciality area, technology innovation moves on apace. It would appear that where such innovation is aimed at assisting the customer rather than cutting costs for the retailer it is much better received. New payment methods, assisted selling, clientelling and information distribution are proving really beneficial, and many of these technologies are being provided by smaller more agile providers as opposed to the giants of the retail technology industry, who are finding it difficult to innovate at a cost and pace demanded by the business.

David Lowrence is a retail IT consultant with over 30 years' experience working in retail. He is founder of the consultancy Gatherum, and works with clients across the retail and hospitality sectors on developing IT strategy.

Over the coming months, Essential Retail will be using extracts from his blogs, which cover technology and the wider retail industry.

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