As we enter the retail events season, there are more questions than ever being asked about technology’s impact on bricks-and-mortar retail. The pace of change makes it challenging for retailers to devise effective strategies to make the best use of technology, both in store and online.

Owen McCormack

The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) just adds to the confusion, making data gathering fraught with difficulty and affecting which technologies are workable. Here are a few topics we expect to hear more about as we circulate trade-show floors.

Personalised shopping

For years, retailers and software providers have tried to join up the retail experience – to use digital data collection techniques to provide a personal experience to shoppers and link their online profile with their offline activity. However, the concept of ‘personalisation’ without customer consent is difficult to square with GDPR. Users of some facial recognition technology, for example, could be in trouble.

Other technologies are emerging to pick up the slack. Some retailers collect customer information at the point of sale by offering an emailed receipt, for example. Real-time product inventories, where store staff also know exactly what is available online, feels like a technology ready to take off.

Stores as walk-in billboards

Retailers are making stores less transactional and more experiential. For example, car retailers such as Tesla and Porsche now have stores in shopping centres, but visitors can’t buy anything – that’s not the point. The store is a walk-in billboard.

Retailers are doing everything they can to make shopping unique

This strategy will fundamentally change the retailer/landlord relationship. Performance won’t be measured by revenue, but by how many people are attracted to the store. Storefronts will no longer be designed to attract customers for a quick purchase if revenue is no longer the key metric.

Data gathering and GDPR

A hot topic will be how to collect customer information while ensuring compliance with GDPR. Every decision regarding data gathering is now seen in the context of data privacy. Retailers have had to change their mindset entirely; privacy and security are fundamental considerations for the board of directors, not just the IT department.

However, the very best retailers are already adopting sophisticated data collection systems with privacy credentials at their core.

A new breed of retail managers

Many retail managers still make decisions the old-school way, based on gut instinct, past experience and broad trends in sales data. The new breed of bricks-and-mortar retail managers are quantitative animals. They understand the many factors that affect a customer’s decision to make a purchase. If weather affects sales, they will know how much was due to lower passing footfall and how much to mis-targeted merchandising.

Online buying

Source: Shutterstock/Kostenko Maxim

In a world where not all retailers can have a dedicated data science team, people will certainly be talking about new ways to collect, visualise and interpret large databases, including the use of AI.

Is it ‘Instagrammable’?

Retailers are desperate to get us visiting shops and will try almost anything to get people talking or, more importantly, posting. Getting youngsters to echo positive brand messages on social media is one of the most effective forms of marketing today. To make this happen, retailers have to be imaginative.

The more pioneering retailers are doing everything they can to make shopping unique and memorable – think novelty tech such as colour matching based on complexion or the chance to enter a 3D experience using a headset.

Owen McCormack, co-founder and chief executive of Hoxton Analytics