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The Retail Technology Show 2023 – key findings

The Retail Technology Show has officially wrapped up for 2023 but not without many brands and tech companies providing their excellent insights and opinions on stage with others. Here are the 4 key areas that the Red Ant team thought to be the most interesting and informative at the Retail Technology Show 2023.

1. Build a connection between your online and physical stores

The opportunity of connecting online and in-store retail was still being hotly discussed this year with River Island’s Director of Technology Operations, Paul Cooper, claiming that a large part of their in-store retail strategy has been to bring the digital into the physical through new technologies. The idea to merge online and offline to provide a more streamlined and frictionless experience in store was popular. John Ryan at NewStores stated that digital should be part of the experience, not an end in and of itself. Estee Lauder’s Executive Director of Retail Technology in North America, Gareth Hughes also claimed the importance of bridging this gap between in-store and online by suggesting that retailers should consider stitching their online and in-store data together to create an omnichannel journey for their customers that will improve customer experience.

2. Know your customers inside and out

Personalising the store experience was a key topic this year with many retailers and influencers discussing pitfalls of assuming what your customers want. Retail consultant Constanze Frienstein advocated that the industry needs to move on from deciding in isolation what customers want. She claimed that brands should back decisions with data and use it to discover how shoppers actually behave in stores. Doing so means retailers can tune in to a shopper’s personal KPIs such as value for money, special offers and budgeting and compare them to the business’ to provide a more personalised experience that suggests to shoppers that the brand they love, loves them back which can improve retention. Marks & Spencer’s Chief Digital Product Officer Krista Nordlund also highlighted the importance of understanding your customers in her talk when she mentioned how M&S had originally had concerns over how users would engage with their video powered retail and livestreams and their persistence to learn and improve from each one. 

During the second day, the idea of listening and adapting to how customers want to shop rather than forcing them to shop a certain way was suggested in a keynote panel discussion between Nuvei, Studio Retail, Estee Lauder & Morrisons. The chairperson of the discussion and Director of Payments Consultancy Limited, Mark McMurtrie noted how payment options have evolved over time from retailers telling customers how they can pay to shoppers now telling retailers how they want to pay instead, advocating for the importance of understanding what people want rather than focusing on what brands believe is best. In the same chat, CTO Gareth Hughes noted that not all retailers’ shoppers want to be engaged in the same way, using the example of Estee Lauder customers vs Morrisons shoppers; his customers want store associates to engage with them in store which, although it adds friction to the customer checkout, improves the experience, in comparison to Morrisons who may find that frictionless self-checkout machines would improve the customer experience for them as their shoppers are not looking for a personalisation. It is therefore important to understand what your customers are looking for when visiting your stores.

3. Fully understand the tech you are using and want to try

At her talk, Mary Portas argued that technology has the potential for extraordinary disruption. However, it was evident that retailers were also wary of implementing new tech. With a large insurgence of ‘fancy’, topical tech for retailers to get excited about, brands understood that with great power comes even greater responsibility and many talks mentioned the need to consider new technology usages before opting into trying them right away. Chief Technology Officer at Sweaty Betty, Simon Pakenham-Walsh discussed the importance of this by encouraging retailers to build on their stable core technology. He argued that focusing efforts on the latest ‘fancy’ tech may not work as had originally thought and have negative repercussions for sales. He also argued that retailers should do something to improve retail transformation, not because it’s a new possibility and it is trending but because it will help. NewStores’ John Ryan strengthened this point by claiming that shiny graphics and touchscreens ‘are over’ because they are only superficially interesting and more often than not don’t work consistently or make the path to purchase easier.

Paul Kendrick, CEO at Studio Retail, gave an example of needing to fully understand the technology you plan to use when discussing new payment options at his keynote panel discussion. He noted that, although it gives another payment preference for customers, ‘buy now, pay later’ payment options would have some big challenges to overcome in the near future. Tech options originally thought to be exciting and the future of retail, have now started to become complicated for brand retail systems and left retailers who have paid a lot of money to implement them with new challenges should they continue using them.

4. Choose your partners smartly

Not only was choosing your new tech smartly a talking point, but also how to choose the right partners to work with. Scott Cahill, UK & EU Director of Operations at Teamwork Commerce noted that retailers should make sure their partners offer value to their brand in some way, focusing on their experience, their ability to grow with retailers and real client feedback. It was also suggested in River Island’s fireside chat that the work done for them was only made possible by joint efforts from Independent Software Vendor (ISV) partners meaning that brands should also consider how easily partners can integrate with other providers. The idea of providers adding value to retailers was also noted by Estee Lauder, where Hughes suggested that retailers should utilise their partners for advice if they are unsure of something. This adds value to the relationship and allows for partners to further develop an understanding of retailers’ needs and build upon improving their services for them.

Sweaty Betty also made a valid point in mentioning the importance of determining what to use partners for, and what can be done in-house. Simon Pakenham-Walsh suggested brands should outsource technology that isn’t going to be unique to the brand so that they get tech that is necessary for improving the retail experience but can focus on providing something distinctive to their stores. A good example of a valuable partner was shown by M&S who discussed how their livestreaming partnership had allowed them to build an authentic experience and deepen engagement by utilising their own store associates.

Engage, transact and elevate in 2023

At Red Ant, we believe in the quality of our work. Our team is always working to stay abreast of retail innovation and striving to improve the solutions we provide. This means we are continually at the forefront of retail change. In fact, Red Ant's retail technology experts have been delivering innovative technology for some of the world’s biggest retail and lifestyle brands for the past 24 years. Our award-winning tech is proven to maximise sales, deliver exceptional customer service and drive operational performance. 

If you are looking for a retail tech provider that has the knowledge and experience to grow your brand in store and online, get in touch with our team to tell us more about your retail goals today!

Accelerate your in-store evolution - get in touch for a demo today or watch our team's highlights at this year's Retail Technology Show here

Sharing key insights at the Retail Technology Show Talk with Red Ant Head of Client Success, Emma Newman & Furniture Village’s Business Development and IT Director, Mike Broughton

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