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Gone are the days of ‘Toys R Us’, the once-dominant toy store who struggled to compete with emerging retailers like Amazon. Together with the likes of Debenhams, Wilko, and many others, the demise of these stores highlights the rapidly changing retail landscapes, a theme resonating at the Retail Technology Show I attended on April 24th and 25th.

This event showcased an array of vendors, from modest booths to expansive exhibits featuring displays of immersive AI technology. The attendees included a diverse mix of individuals, from those seeking enhancements to their retail infrastructure to potential partners exploring collaborative opportunities. Alongside engaging with various prospects, I participated in several tech talks, the highlights of which I will discuss in the subsequent sections. 

Changing retail landscape

The retail industry has never seen so much flux in pricing, demanding significant adjustments from suppliers to adapt to changing buyer habits. It’s important to address each of the target audience’s preferences, e.g., recognising that younger generations prioritise sustainability and understanding that certain people only buy at a discount. Assessing the cost-of-living crisis across socioeconomic groups is also crucial. While it’s likely to have a bigger impact on lower-income households, some customers may still spend on expensive goods despite the crisis. This aligns with different marketing strategies as the standard omni-channel user journey is becoming more complex through emerging platforms like TikTok.

This rising complexity requires a mapping out of the customer journey as consumers unconsciously bounce between digital and physical pathways to suit their changing needs. Using data to put customers at the heart of the business above convenience will facilitate this, as it will inform suppliers to target user needs and not business needs, which should be balanced carefullyAwareness and consequent tapping into certain groups, e.g., knowing the top 20% of households that are responsible for 40% of spending, can help visualise this spend and where. 

Retail innovation and customer engagement in 2024

Given the surge in stores with competitive online prices, innovations have been sought to address the changing retail landscape. Many of these have evolved from data collection; 70% of people are more likely to buy items after trying them compared to those simply browsing the shop floor therefore, various fast fashion brands have seen the introduction of intelligent fitting rooms.

Despite in store progress, digitisation is happening faster online seen through stronger personalisation and tailored ads. After initial concerns from Primark around implementing Click and Collect, the service proved to leverage the capability of both in-store and online through customers often buying surplus product in store alongside the original item purchased online. There are plans for the next generation of barcodes to capture unprecedented amounts of data in 2D format which can even be used to detect products beyond sell by date and prevent purchase. These have immense potential for improving safety, traceability, and stock management. 


Crime in Retail

Despite innovations in retail, the UK saw 6.7 million shoplifts last year—a marked increase compared to the previous year (~ double). It is interesting to see how technology can both be a catalyst for increasing and decreasing crime, as 40% of shop thefts were elicited via self-checkouts. Aside from making theft physically easier, I question to what extent consciousness and perception play a role here—are people perceiving their theft as merely taking from a metal machine versus seeing the actual business behind the screen and thus diversifying the audience to those who wouldn’t otherwise steal?

The cost-of-living crisis has certainly perpetuated this loss, but technology has been implemented to counter such criminality. AI-enabled facial recognition is becoming a key tool in identifying and tracking offenders, a strategy supported by the recent 76% increase in police attendance at incidents following its deployment. This increase in police presence across all retail incidents follows a change in policing priorities to support retailers. Applying the ten principles of crime prevention is becoming ubiquitous amid efforts to support retailers and AI interventions to see future reductions in retail theft. 



Sustainability initiatives

Recent innovations in data consumption have made it clear that sustainability is now integral to future developments, serving as a crucial driver of consumer loyalty and regulatory compliance. Leading brands exemplify how technology can foster sustainability; e.g., Lego’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint by 37% by 2032 was highlighted as a benchmark for the industry. Consumers increasingly make choices based on environmental impact, with novel brands like ‘Too Good to Go’ incentivizing reuse over food waste. This is particularly attractive for Gen Z and millennials, who are 27% more likely to purchase from a brand that prioritises people and the planet. 

“The Retail Technology Show was a brilliant opportunity to hear from leading retail experts that are using technology to enhance the customer experience and lead the way to new innovative approaches.”

Simi Ogunjobi
Marketing Assistant

Key Takeaways

Overall, the digital decade has forced huge change on the retail sector owing to an ‘arms race’ allowing those who are able to compete while leaving the rest falling by the wayside. Retail businesses have had to adopt new strategies, ideas, and even new products to keep in line with the competitive marketplace.

The days of going to the shops and merely picking up milk and loaves of fresh bread are subsiding; it seems it will soon be more likely to pick the specific cow you’d like your milk from. As the saying goes ‘with great change comes great responsibility’ and so if retailers want to continue to compete in this fast-paced world they must seek out opportunities for growth- the heart of which relying on nothing other than data