At various events this year, there was a great deal of discussion about the future of retail and technologies that can be used to personalise the shopping experience of customers and forecast their demand as accurately as possible. Here are our main takeaways from the RetailEXPO, FUTR Europe and Retail Demand Forecasting and Data Science Workshop:

  1. The importance of omnichannel retail

One point that came up repeatedly at all of these events was the importance of an unforgettable customer experience across physical and digital stores. At the RetailEXPO, Sezin Tumer discussed the monotony of the shopping experience in retail stores. The Global Principal Retail Innovation Manager from Vodafone sees the two disconnected channels as a reason for the fragmented and complicated customer journey. This makes it more difficult for customers to find the fitting products in a short time and complicates the analysis of data for retailers. At the FUTR Europe, these concerns were confirmed by Melissa Dunn, Head of Digital Product Development at Sainsbury’s Argos. In her opinion, customers are often overstrained by too many disconnected channels.

The current problem is the definition of the term omnichannel. Many retailers think of omnichannel as linking together physical and digital retail channels, but this approach doesn’t capture how customers approach retail today. Establishing omnichannel is about presenting a seamless blend of physical and digital channels, where the experience is consistent throughout the customer journey.

  1. Upgrade of physical stores

As mentioned in the last paragraph, technology and market experts agree that the high street is not dead, but needs to provide much more than a wide range of products. Today’s consumers are influenced by online merchants like Amazon and benefit from a greater choice of products, short delivery times and smart payment processes. For that reason, retailers need to give people a reason to visit their store. The RetailEXPO offered the opportunity to discuss which in-store technologies can enable retailers to avoid a customer fleeing. Martin Wild, Chief Innovation Officer at the MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group, introduced some of the biggest retail technology trends. It became clear that image recognition and virtual reality will influence the retail industry significantly within the next years. Image recognition and scan and buy solutions enables customers to accelerate their purchase without waiting at the checkout and are just a small selection of technologies retailers can use to compete with Amazon.

  1. Much work is left to be done

At the Retail Demand Forecasting and Data Science Workshop in April, practitioners from leading UK retailers and academics discussed the challenges retailers face today. As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, retailers are definitely aware of the fact that it is essential to improve the customer experience across various channels. The reality looks different, as discussed at this event. Marks & Spencer, to name one example, are trying to tackle the challenge to hire the right team and improve the communication between analysts and commercial teams. Stephan Kolassa has made the proposal that retailers should invest in new technologies and upgrade their physical stores, because “it is the best time to invest” in times of omnichannel innovations and the fact that they need to collect as many data as possible. Only with the support of new technologies retailers can be where customers going to be, not where they are.

The takeaways from these events show that personalisation is the key to success for retailers to improve the shopping experience across various channels. To achieve this goal, they need to use technologies, which is often a challenge, because many retailers are at an early stage and should invest in data science teams and in-store technology to compete with online giants.