2017 retail technology trends
You’ll be pleased to hear I won’t be talking about IoT. Why? Because retailers don’t talk about it, and I don’t want to fuel the hype until we see what actually happens. Besides, there’s a lot more that needs fixing in-store and online first.
Labour costs will bite even deeper this year, and while we talk euphemistically about redistribution of staff to higher value tasks, we really mean fewer jobs, which tracks the BRC’s 2016 prediction that a third of jobs in retail will go by 2025.
As workforce management systems vendors, the obvious owners of the tech problem, avoid the topic, great opportunities arise for tech companies that optimise labour, equip staff with tech, connect the touchpoints generating behaviour data in-store, and enable consumers to operate at their leisure. However, they must hone their proposition around the real challenges facing retailers, not just talk about customer experience.
The customer is taking control of their online experience and retailers need to roll with it. Mobile apps are the ultimate shop window, through which consumers can pretty much manage their entire retail life. This isn’t the death of the store but its rebirth, with a digital primary interface. This is about delivering commerce, loyalty, payments and marketing seamlessly. The prizes will go to the vendors who understand this, then build on it.
Some people feel the same about machine learning as IoT, but machine learning-enabled tech vendors at least come to market with real-life retail solutions, like sourcing, merchandising and replenishment through the supply chain, and personalised marketing at the front end. ML plays directly to two of retail’s biggest challenges and profit opportunities – the ability to stock better and sell better.
A huge misnomer, as the intelligence isn’t artificial, just delivered by machine. From a retail-oriented perspective, it’s how some vendors are able to use data to blend the human and the artificial, analogue and digital, around the real voice of the customer. Vendors operating in this space can reduce labour costs as AI potentially replaces call centre agents. Few, however, can offer tech to manage the entire customer journey, identifying a huge opportunity for retailers that can decide who owns the problem rather than squabbling between operations, marketing, customer service and IT.
More of a prayer than a prediction – because which retailer doesn’t want to fix the one part of the order they don’t fully control? Right now the market is crowded with solutions optimising elements of the journey – but don’t integrate. A handful of disruptors almost certainly have the answer to create de facto standards for click-and-collect at the point of sale as one major fix, but they face the entrenched mind-set set off those happy with the status quo, still partnering in ways that built on an old model of fulfilment. An area that is ripe for disruption once retailers stop letting the incumbents managing their expectations down.