By Mike Callender, Executive Chairman, REPL Group
There has been a real shift in focus within retail. For years, traditional bricks and mortar retailers have been concentrating so much on perfecting their online operations that their attention has been taken away from their physical stores. This year the buzz at the Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE) was around replicating the online experience instore using the power of the human interaction available through the shop keeper, but being aided by the plethora of modern-day machine-generated intelligence now available from the likes of robots, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).
Google, for example, was talking at the show about how its analytics can be used instore to assess how and where customers are browsing, and then tailor real-time offers to them accordingly to clinch the sale. In keeping with the zeitgeist, we launched our ADAPT suite which includes a forecasting app which uses machine learning to look at a customer’s behavioural history and identify patterns in a way that humans are just not capable of achieving. It then learns about events that could cause fluctuations in sales such as bank holidays, pay days and the weather and applies this knowledge to future events, resulting in more accurate planning of stock availability and staff resources.
Today, retailing is very much a meeting of minds. AI can empower in-store staff with the knowledge they need to close a sale, yet some reticence still remains. For example, if they see a customer comparing prices on Amazon, many are reluctant to approach them and chat to them about it. This seems strange, after all if a customer was to openly discuss a rival’s wares in front of them, surely staff would be eager to step in? Now is the time to empower staff with the confidence to do so.
In some sectors of retail, speed is key. With smaller purchases, consumers often want to pay and go. Consequently, retailers need to make instore buying more streamlined and focus on creating cashless environments. Self-scanning solutions using a mobile phone are getting increasingly popular, alongside other time saving ideas such as apps to ensure your morning cappuccino is waiting for you at the forecourt checkout when filling up with petrol. The one thing that we will see change over the next 12 to 24 months will be in how retailers actually accept payment. The move towards a completely cashless society in the UK will surely continue to gather pace. Instead of credit and debit cards, we are all increasingly using our phones. We’re seeing it already with Apple Pay and its competitors, so there’s no reason why the trend won’t accelerate.
AI and machine learning will only work when fed with data. The problem retailers have is that it seems that the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica furore has knocked consumer confidence when it comes to providing personal information. The onus, therefore, is on retailers to provide valid reasons why they want the data and give something back in return.
The one thing that we will see change over the next 12 to 24 months will be in how retailers actually accept payment. The move towards a completely cashless society in the UK will surely continue to gather pace. Instead of credit and debit cards, we are all increasingly using our phones. We’re seeing it already with Apple Pay and its competitors, so there’s no reason why the trend won’t accelerate.
Traditional stores are never going to win on price, so they must become competitive in other ways. It’s about experience retailing. Within the next decade or so, consumers will continue to go to the high street when making a major purchase for the human interaction. It is simply human nature. I certainly don’t think we will see any dramatic change between now and next year’s RBTE. In fact, my prediction is that in 2019 we will probably see even more analytics to drive instore sales akin to what online retailers have been doing for years and, in response, may incorporate a way to facilitate more dynamic pricing across day/week parts.