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Future Stores 2016: It’s time to start talking

Chris Field
Chris Field

How often do brands, retailers and tech companies sit down and just talk to each other? Never? Well, in my experience it is certainly not often enough.

Future Stores 2016 saw in-store experience innovators from some of Europe’s most progressive retailers gather in London last week to do precisely that and discuss how the physical retail store will survive and thrive in future.

What set this event apart was that it actively sought to create a forum for sharing best practices by building space into the agenda for great discussion between delegates and making them participate – not always willingly!

This lead to a frank and refreshingly honest debate about how different retailers and brands are approaching the wealth of technologies on offer. This intense process revealed that across the industry there is a feeling that many of the tech products available are solutions looking for problems – rather that addressing the individual needs of customers.

Beacon technology for example – sold as a panacea for all retail’s ills just a few years ago – but when it comes to implementation, delegates at Future Stores were quick to identify that it is just one solution, and very much not the right one for every store.

Across the conference it was clear that, for retailers and brands, technology isn’t always the magic key to the faultless bricks-and-mortar store experiences that are promised. Instead, there was a feeling that while the successful retail store of the future will undoubtedly contain more tech solutions, these need to be balanced with human interactions to avoid alienating customers.

Retailers from John Lewis to B&Q, and brands as diverse as Volkswagen, Lego and Burberry, all concluded that to truly add value to the customer journey we need to go back to basics and think about what customers want and don’t want. It seems that retailers are now realising that technology that empowers employees might be the solution to solving problems such as linking customer in-store and online experiences.

What I’ve taken away from the event is that in an industry facing as many opportunities as setbacks, it is in the interests of every retail stakeholder to actively participate in and encourage industry wide debate.

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