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The retail technology revolution: it's just the beginning

There’s no shying away from the fact that budgets have been tighter and high street retailers have been fighting a battle with their online counterparts. Operational efficiency has been key.

This is why we’ve seen an uptake in technology such as self-serve and automation. Consumers feel as though they’re taking control of their own retail experience and retailers have been able to save money on resources.

Some of the technology we’ve seen introduced has also been a reaction to the changing needs of the consumer. They’ve become savvy to traditional selling methods and POS, so other marketing avenues have been explored. This is why we have seen the introduction of solutions such as digital signage.

Marketing messages now appear alongside frequently asked questions and store information. It’s about making the consumer feel more like they’re being educated and less like they’re being sold to.

This need for new, innovative ways of marketing continues to evolve. You only have to look at products such as our own Virtual Assistant, a digital signage solution that creates the illusion of a real person, to get an idea of how fast this market is progressing.

However, there’s still a lot more that can be done and, for me, no retailer is yet to crack a cost effective way to smoothly and efficiently guide consumers through a store and try new brands. The age-old question of ‘what makes people buy?’ is still to be answered.

The next few years will see the industry moving closer to finding that solution and I believe the secret lies in the pocket of the consumer or, to be more precise, their mobile phone.

In retail, there remains two very distinct customer journeys; one for those who shop online, and the other for those who venture onto the high street. The commercial Holy Grail would be to merge the two and mobile technology has that ability.

Until now, it’s been a fairly untapped resource, but I’m confident we’re about to see an explosion in the retail app market.

They will be used as a CRM tool, allowing retailers to build a fully rounded profile of the consumer. So, whilst the consumer gains an easy and convenient way of remotely placing an order to pick up in-store or book an appointment for an in-store service, the retailer gains valuable information on shopping habits.

To some extent we’re already seeing this with the likes of Tesco, with Club Card customers being sent vouchers for items they regularly purchase. Think along these lines, but amplified 10-fold.

Personalised shopping will be the buzzword and, through app development, we have a way to almost offer a concierge service, whereby customers are guided through a store towards products that match their profile.

Many of the basics are going to change too as retailers continue to look at ways of increasing efficiency and decreasing the risk of walk-aways.

Take supermarket queuing as an example. Tensator recently worked with Carrefour in France to introduce single line queuing and Electronic Call Forward at checkouts for the first time in a grocery store environment. I fully expect that, over the next few years, we’ll see something similar in UK supermarkets too, with customers being served in a much fairer way compared to the current system. 

With existing technology, there’s going to be a trend of making it work harder. I’ve already indentified the digital signage market as one that’s grown immensely, but it’s going to change.

Whereas previously it’s been used as a simple attention-grabbing tool, we’re going to start seeing its application becoming more targeted. As retailers start to pay more attention to consumer monitoring technology and build up greater customer profiles, marketing messages that appeal to specific groups can be deployed.

On the whole retailers are getting savvier and realise that gaining a better understanding of who visits their store, what they are buying and when, is hugely beneficial. The next decade will see technology developing in line with that ethos. It may sound a little like Big Brother, but ultimately, I believe it will result in a more stable high street, a more cohesive on and off-line experience, and bring about a positive economic impact.