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Are retailers really listening to your tech monologue?

Chris Field
Chris Field

News that the number of full-time jobs in retail fell by 3% year on year in the third quarter of 2016, as inflationary pressures increased following the Brexit vote in June, supports the BRC’s suggestion back in March that total retail jobs could fall by one third by 2025.

This must mean that the number of stores will also fall by dramatically, but no one dares to predict that; the focus right now is on how to make current retail footprint work differently to satisfy the channel hopping consumer.

What this says to me is that the timetable for investing in staff with better recruitment, training, processes and tech needs to accelerate. It seems like we are still in cosy chat mode where we all talk about what the future will look like, while not worrying too much about how we make it a reality.

Naturally, the tech industry is always much more heavily invested in a faster adoption curve than the retailers and innovations. See examples such as the Internet of Things, which still suffers more from hype and hubris than investigation and trial.

That disconnect won’t ever go away – it’s in the nature of tech – but I wonder if both the retailers and the tech vendors are not missing a shot. Interruption marketing is not going to convert the retail industry, so while everyone else gets on with that, consider a more collaborative approach.

A true tech/retail partnership is based on understanding what retailers want. Here at Fieldworks, we put great investment into getting under the skin of retailers’ needs and priorities. We run retailer panels, dinners, surveys and meetups, to tap into what retailers are really talking about. I can tell you that these conversations are quite different from what the tech vendors and analysts say is bugging retailers. Proof this is so can be taken from a US analysis firm’s 2016 tech trends that I recently re-read, none of which came true.

Trying to keep up with the competition is almost impossible, no matter how disruptive you think you are. Therefore it is much better to get a better feel for what retailers are worrying about right now, and collaborate with them to solve those problems. It’s unlikely to be much to do with building the connected store, but if you can have a conversation based on topics like employee costs, rents, compliance and commodity prices, then connecting the store is most definitely part of the answer.

To discover more about retailers’ priorities right now, visit our Retail Connections website for interviews and insights from senior retail decision makers. To get closer to these decision makers through our network, talk to us about sponsoring a Retail Connections event

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