Is the UK’s retail tech scene really thriving?

There’s a retail technology revolution taking place in the UK. Should you believe the hype?
19 June 2018 | 2564 Shares

The UK retail sector has a lot of tech and it’s becoming an interesting sphere. Source: Shutterstock

Unless you’ve been living in a hole for the last few years, you’ll know that London and indeed the UK as a whole has a thriving FinTech scene, with investors pumping large sums of money into various startups.

Their counterparts in the retail sector are, however, not quite so high profile. So it was good to see Tech London Advocates last week unveil its Retail Tech 50 list, showcasing the most interesting and exciting retail technology companies in London.

The list included blockchain e-commerce payments and ID platform, Nuggets, which has joined JD.com’s AI Catapult Accelerator (AICA) and Poq, a Software-as-a-Service platform for mobile commerce that recently raised £9.5 million in a Series B funding round led by Smedvig Capital.

The impact and disruptive power of technology within the retail industry increasingly dominates the news agenda, and London’s contribution to this revolution has been on a par with the likes of Silicon Valley,” said Eugene Fisher, Retail Tech Group Lead, Tech London Advocates.

“While Asos and Farfetch represent some of London’s internationally-acclaimed successes, this list highlights the brightest and best of our vibrant startup ecosystem. From supply chain to payments, in-store to digital, it paints a bold picture of the future as told by local talent.”

There’s a popular argument right now that technology has been incorrectly hailed as the saviour of the ‘dying’ high street and retailers need to get the basics right before implementing costly gimmicks such as immersive augmented reality experiences, ‘smile to pay’ services, drone deliveries and anything with blockchain in its name.

The counter-argument is that, in these fast-moving omnichannel times, businesses must constantly evolve to stay ahead.

As the Amazon juggernaut continues apace and many traditional retailers stare into the abyss, disruptive technology can give that all important competitive edge.

“The retail tech sector in Britain is dynamic, robust and brimming with promise,” said Fiona Cincotta, Senior Market Analyst at City Index. The emergence of various innovative startups couldn’t have been better timed, she believes.

“Right now, the traditional high street is dying. House of Fraser recently joined the long list of retailers planning store closures; a harsh reminder of how digitally behind the times the retail space is, which makes the potential for tech to reinvigorate the traditional retail space huge.”

Given the importance of the consumer in the British economy, Cincotta expressed surprise at how long it’s taken to reach a digital crossroads.

“Just think, Artificial Intelligence leading to an improved, unique experience, cashier free stores such as those being opened by Amazon. These are just some of the improvements that will be coming, sooner rather than later,” she commented.

“Time is certainly running out to turn the dying high street around, but the energy in the retail tech sector is infectious and exciting. I have little doubt that this is the space to watch,” Cincotta concluded.