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RBTE 2016: eCommerce 2020 and the future of retail

An array of retailers with different digital capabilities – Selfridges, Dreams and Secret Sales – give their thoughts on the future of retail at RBTE 2016.

NFC, iBeacons, robots and the fulfilment battle. These are all future-gazing ideas which were bounded around the stage of the eCommerce Theatre during the final panel debate at RBTE 2016.

But Nish Kukadia, CEO of Secretsales.com, summed up the future of retail in one tangible prediction – the future of retail will be about making shopping even easier for the customer.

"There will be more investment in checkout terminals and POS, and more mobile – no one wants to queue up and it's a complete waste of time," Kukadia said at RBTE 2016.

He also pointed out Nordstrom in the US which has launched a Click & Collect service which delivers to a customer's car. "You text the store in advance of arriving at the car park, and as you arrive a store clerk is downstairs putting your purchases in your car."

He said data can be used to predict services customers want before they even know they want them, using systems such as IBM's Watson and its machine learning algorithms which learn exactly what customers want. But Kukadia said even social log-ins can provide insights, "I like that this is building a bigger understanding: so this shopper drinks red wine in their lounge at home."

Collaboration

Understanding what customers want is clearly crucial to the future of retail, and sometimes customers want what a retailer cannot provide. But Lucy Hirom, interim head of digital marketing at Selfridges, believes retailers should turn the threat of competition into an opportunity.

"There's a huge opportunity around collaboration between brands and technology," she said. "Look at Nike and Apple, with its running app which Nike has put into a shoe, and customers can turn those kilometres into purchasing power. Or Net-a-Porter's the NetSet app, which is a collaboration between technology and retail. There's always a lot more innovation and collaboration bringing different ideas and cultures together."

Hirom also admired the way technology can suggest a recipe out of a photograph of ingredients leftover in your fridge. "So as a fashion retailer, if I walk into store and take a photo of a top, the technology could recommend a whole host of outfits I can build with that, and you don't even need a sales associate anymore and the consumer can become very self sufficient."

The internet of things (IoT)

And with smartphones becoming more intelligent by the day, the idea of a personal assistant in your pocket is now a pleasant reality. Customers note down what they eat and how many steps they've taken into MyFitnessPal, while they are greeted with location-based messages and offers as they go about their day.

"What I see coming down the line is the opportunity to have technology built into a bed or a device [which provides] the health benefits of a good nights sleep."

That is the future prediction of Richard Voyce, head of eCommerce at Dreams, who hinted that the retailer would be releasing a consumer product of a similar description later on this year.

"It would monitor your sleep and well-being, and feed back into systems that can govern your health and spot problems before you do, and book you into the doctors or wherever you need to be."

But Voyce spoke for the entire panel speaking at the eCommerce Theatre earlier this month when he said there is a myriad of different options which makes it difficult to know as a retailer where to put your investment.

"It's an absolute minefield," he said. "And it's possible that you can do too much too quickly. You need to scale back a bit and focus on a couple of key areas rather than tackle everything, and do those things well and build on from there."

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