What I learned at Retail Week Tech
Funny thing about tradeshows, there’s probably way too many of them at the moment and I fully expect some kind of fall out over the next few years, but they all have important merits.
This is often the only chance most of us get to actually spend quality time with retailers, analysts, journalists and tech companies. We should never undervalue the importance of the word conversation, even though it has become very overused. At Retail Week Tech, it was the conversations that revealed what is really going in retail at the moment.
The clock is ticking
What most people I spoke to agreed was, time is definitely running out for retailers to make the major changes they absolutely need to make; the time for some kind of predictable digital transformation timetable is long past. How many retailers are hoping that the current upheavals over Brexit will eventually subside and things will return to normal? And how many seem to be paralysed in the headlights, unable or unwilling to even try something new?
Easy ways to innovate
What is encouraging, and what was very clear from the show, is that there are a number of very powerful tech solutions that retailers can implement right now and get a return quickly, and without making a major investment. We talk about proof of concept, which can in some cases be very time-consuming, complex and indeed even expensive, but this is no longer true. Consider all the tech companies that are looking to democratise artificial intelligence and are happy to process a single question for a few thousand pounds, to prove the business case. What possible reason can there be for any retailer to not have a go?
One senior tech executive I spoke to quoted three major retailers who made the excuse that they were not ready to consider new solutions, because they were still focusing on getting the plumbing right. For me, that is simply a euphemism for, “I’m too scared to try anything new.” After all, plumbing is not a job that ever gets finished so it hardly qualifies as a reasonable excuse not to innovate.
Overcoming the fear factor
Retailers don’t need to go it alone. They should be collaborating with their suppliers. The truth is that the relationship between retailers and brands has always been essentially adversarial, and this really can’t go on because both parties are facing a common enemy, which is the consumer. They will have to put their different cultures, ways of working and politics aside and collaborate in order to understand how together they can meet the needs of these consumers whose demands are always changing and are so often unreasonable in terms of enabling both parties to make a profit.
This will take time, but consider the things that will make it easier to collaborate. Firstly, the tech companies can act as trusted intermediaries accessing a common data set to find value and to serve it up as ready to use decisions.
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