Retail conferences – what topped the bill this year?

We are in a period where retailers face big decisions.

Technological advancements and savvy consumers demanding a frictionless retail experience are increasing the need for retailers to react and adapt, fast. This made the recent retail conference season all the more important.

It was a busy time with the Retail Business Technology Expo, Retail Week Conference and the Internet Retailing Expo all taking place in the space of just a few weeks and a number of hot topics were fighting for top billing.

Mobile is more than just payments

At the Retail Business Technology Expo, Nick Rudd, head of loyalty services at Weve, suggested people are focusing too much on the device as a method of payment instead of fully understanding the opportunities for customer interaction. A number of retailers are currently expanding their m-commerce offering.

Meijer use their mobile app to enhance the in-store experience, offering in-store product finders, store maps and personalised coupons.

As a result of Asda’s focus on mobile as a transaction channel, its standalone mobile offering now accounts for 20% of home delivery orders, while eBay’s optimised mobile site is said to sell a car every minute.

Create a frictionless process

At Retail Business Technology Expo, BT described how its ‘Know Me and Serve Me’ approach is helping to accumulate data that lets them build better customer relationships and provide a more simple and personalised consumer experience. Other retailers are devoting more and more space to ‘Click and Collect’. Indeed Asda recently opened a store in Reading solely for it and even predicted the launch of drive-through ‘Click and Collect’ stores in the not too distant future.

Growth in tablet usage has resulted in a number of organisations, most notably Apple, embracing ‘Pay at Tablet Technology’. This is seen as making customer purchases a much smoother process, for instance by decreasing queues.

Some retailers are even adopting ‘Virtual Reality’ and interactive kiosks to speed up the customer journey. Tesco is piloting interactive digital displays at Gatwick Airport, while the Chinese online grocer Yinodian has developed an online experience that replicates a physical store on your mobile. Shoppers can walk down virtual aisles and select products, all without the hassle of pushing a heavy trolley.

Embrace the technology ‘WOW’ factor

Many retailers are already reaping the benefits of ‘wowing’ consumers and the Retail Week Conference was littered with emerging examples.

Whole Foods showed off a Kinect-powered self-service trolley that matches items to a pre-loaded shopping list, directs customers around the store, detects what items are placed in the trolley and when linked to a billing account can pay for goods instantly.

Adidas is rolling out a series of touch-screens that allow shoppers to check out 3D images of trainers along with additional information such as design inspiration, size availability and price. It also pulls in Twitter feeds related to the products being sold to show what customers are saying.

Republic has introduced a Facebook mirror wall for shoppers to take pictures of what they’re trying on and directly send to Facebook to share potential purchases with friends.

US department store Neiman Marcus is going even further to impress shoppers. It has launched a mobile app that allows customers to select an in-store stylist before they arrive and meet them at the fitting room with a series of recommended items they have chosen.

Finally, in Japan retailers are introducing mannequin robots that engage with shoppers as they pass by. The tech itself is exciting enough but when it’s applied in such as way as to enhance and simplify the journey, who could resist such a lure?

Finding the right solutions

It’s not simply a case of trying to make all the hot trends work immediately. Retailers need to think about what works for their organisation, products and their current and future consumers.

While the development of new digital channels and the emergence of new tech is supporting and enriching user shopping experiences, creating a truly frictionless customer journey is about the right approach, for the right purpose.

This is vital if retailers are to be fully prepared for the digital age.