Staying ahead of the retail tech innovation curve

Technology has become central to omnichannel retail and is shaping its future like never before.
15 August 2018

Technology is driving retail success. Source: Shutterstock

New research by Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE), involving over 7,500 retail professionals, reveals the top challenges faced by the sector.

Keeping up with technology advancements lands in first place, identified by 35 percent of retailers.

“Innovation is king in the retail industry. And business leaders must now, more than ever, define and prioritize driving digital transformation into their own strategies, whether through omnichannel customer service, payment options, product access and clever shipping opportunities,” said Matt Bradley, Show Director at RBTE.

Easier said than done, of course. Spare a thought for the under pressure omnichannel retailer, deciding where to prioritize their IT spending whilst facing the most challenging environment since the post-global financial crisis of 2008. Which tech trends are fads and which are set to go mainstream?

Take, for instance, blockchain startups, who are often criticised as selling a vision of the future, not technology. But go beyond the hype and there is genuine substance here, according to HIS Markit.

The business value of blockchain in retail is projected to reach US$164 billion by 2030, it says. Initial uptake is projected to be led by trade promotions, decentralized marketplaces, payments, smart contracts, supply chain and other applications.

“Using blockchain within the retail and e-commerce sector can lead to a direct relationship opportunity with the customer, providing companies with a greater understanding of their needs and behavior,” said Don Tait, Senior Blockchain Analyst, IHS Markit.

“Blockchain and smart contracts can also provide the tools and framework to create a new generation of marketplaces where the supply and demand sides can engage in trusted trading transactions, according to various business rules, without the need for a central brokerage entity,” added Tait.

Laggards and leaders

House of Fraser, which went into administration last week, spent GBP£25 million on an upgrade of its e-commerce platform, whilst John Lewis splashed out GBP£500 million on its digital revamp. On the other side of the fence are Target and Marks & Spencer.

Sports Direct has bought department store House of Fraser after it fell into administration. Source: Shutterstock

The latter is leveraging its network of more than 1,800 stores and overhauling its supply chain and logistics capabilities in order to offer customers the likes of free two-day shipping nationwide, same-day delivery shopped by Shipt in 150 markets and the roll-out of Drive Up and Order Pick-up services

Whilst M&S recently announced yet another disruptive tech partnership as it looks to transform into a digital-first retailer.

In June, it inked a strategic partnership with Microsoft focused on testing the integration of its AI technologies into the retailer’s stores and wider operations.

And it has now agreed to a tie-up with retail and consumer investment firm, True, which will introduce it to a 2,000-strong network of technology and consumer-product businesses.

Ultimately, staying ahead of the retail tech innovation curve involves visionary leaders, expensive initiatives and projects, nerves of steel and a little bit of luck along the way.

The alternative is standing still and going the way of Toys ‘R’ Us, Maplin and House of Fraser.