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The year so far - three key takeaways that define the future of retail

The first half of 2024 has been a whirlwind of exhibiting, meetings and sharing insights with retail industry leaders over two continents.

Technology affords us unprecedented opportunities to connect with people all over the world without leaving the office, but there’s no substitute for on-the-ground engagement for getting a full picture of the retail landscape.

Both the Retail Technology Show and Seamless Middle East have enabled the team to learn first hand a great deal about what motivates retailers, what challenges they face and their hopes for the future. The key takeaways will be invaluable for enhancing our roadmap for RetailOS in shaping the future of customer experience:

1 Loyalty depends on experience

As reflected in our latest loyalty survey, leading retailers have embraced the fact that engaging and retaining customers depends on more than traditional loyalty schemes, offers and discounts. They’re looking for the complete experience, as highlighted at RTS by Craig Ash, Swarovski’s Managing Director UK and Ireland. His points got to the heart of the matter – to keep customers coming back, retailers need to:

  • Evaluate their omnichannel customers’ expectations around bringing the best of online into the store
  • Assess the best ways to identify in-store customers in an engaging way
  • Use technology to join up the customer journey for seamless shopping 
  • Evaluate which store technology offers maximum opportunity to engage customers in an immersive experience  
  • Rethink store associate training to further engage customers in a powerful, frictionless experience 

The headlines were similar at Seamless Middle East – as part of a panel discussion on delivering positive in-store experiences with customer-facing innovation, leaders from Jackys Group of Companies, Alshaya Group, Sharaf Group, Sony and Kamal Osman Jamjoom all agreed that retailers around the world need to go out of their way to provide customers with exceptional experiences if they want to retain them.

And relationship marketing experts Marigold devoted their RTS talk to exploring the concepts of loyalty, their relevance for retail organisations, alternative methods to foster loyalty and its future, in light of the changing customer and technological landscape.·       

2 Experience depends on getting the basics right

Red Ant has always championed the benefits of building solid foundations for retail technology, and this was supported across the board, both in the UK and the Middle East. As part of his Tech Talk with Planet at RTS, top retail expert Oliver Banks looked at customers’ shifting priorities and how retailers need to understand what the baseline expectations for a good retail experience are. His conclusion brought home the essence of getting the fundamentals right - what was once considered a perk when it comes to customer experience can now be considered essential, including having access to all the benefits of online in store and dedicated, personalised attention from knowledgeable store associates.

Gian Paolo Biasotto, Optitalia Group’s Managing Director, used his Seamless talk to take retailers right back to the start, with his expert insight into putting experience at the heart of store design. How customers engage with brands needs to be central to strategy before they have even set foot in a store, from WiFi access to stock availability.

And Marc Jeffrey, The Giving Movement’s CTO, was fully aligned with these points, focusing on his business’ customer-centric approach to enhancing the retail experience:

  • Engage with customers to understand what omnichannel means to them and strive to go above and beyond their expectations
  • View the customer journey as a unified experience, allowing customers to shop in-store and order online
  • Aim to manage the customer journey from a single, comprehensive view
  • Plan to leverage technology to create a space for mid-luxury fashion
  • Focus on maintaining profitability while also contributing to charity and being eco-friendly

3 AI is still a hot topic, but it can’t replace the human touch

 As always, the subject of AI and what it means for the future of retail fuelled many conversations in the UK and the Middle East. Though a number of significant advances have been made, it remains in its infancy if the discussions about its potential are to be believed. From a purely practical perspective, AI is at its best when processing large amounts of data at speed, then using the results intelligently. It’s why Dex Hunter-Torricke, Google DeepMind’s Head of Global Communications and Marketing, highlighted inventory management as the most interesting AI application, and why talks at both RTS and Seamless centred on how AI can support store associates rather than replace them. 

RTS panel members from Paul Smith, Max Mara and Oka shared their views on generative AI and how it should be geared towards helping those on the shop floor – the personal touch should be enhanced by the technology rather than vice-versa. As for the future, the industry was unified in the belief that there is a need for a formal governance structure, covering ethics, standards and, where necessary, legislation, before innovations such as interactive AI (where bots and AI engines can call on other systems and individuals for input) come into play.

Overall, the last six months have seen a shift from sharing theories to developing strategies, signalling movement in an industry which has understandably pressed ‘pause’ on new initiatives while it recovers from a challenging few years. While there will undoubtedly be challenges to come, willingness to consider strategic developments can only help to enhance the customer experience.

Contact us or request a demo to find out more

Head of Client Success Emma Newman
Emma Newman, Head of Client Success, 17th June 2024
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Related resource

The magic of simplicity

This year’s Retail Technology Show promised to be magical, and there was plenty to inspire wonder over two action-packed days, but the real magic lies in simplicity – specifically, getting the basics right.