IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

  • 21 Nov 2016

Thinkubator Challenge: The Future of Retail

Last week, Retail Assist had the opportunity to discuss the future of retail with bright young minds at Nottingham Business School, part of Nottingham Trent University, at the annual “Thinkubator Challenge”.

Now in its fourth year, the event saw Nottingham Business School undergraduates and postgraduates, research students, Alumni Fellows and academics, split into thinking hubs to create commercial solutions for real business challenges, in just three hours.

The retail technology focused challenge Retail Assist presented to students was: How can retailers engage better with their customers, in order to sell them more?

As a retail technology specialist, understanding what consumers want from retailers will enable our own developments to align with future expectations. Firstly, students identified current issues with the retailer-consumer relationship, which were generalised in the following points:

  1. Consumers require help with choosing products – owing to feeling overwhelmed by the massive amount of choice.
  2. Consumers are frustrated when orders are not fulfilled according to expectation.
  3. Consumers want to see what products look like before a purchase.
  4. Ethics: don’t assume customers are happy to share their data and personal information, the opt out option is very important.
  5. Customers want to be involved with content creation; it is a 2 way communication between retailer and customer.
  6. Importance of mobile as a communication channel.

We were really impressed with the responses from students, as value enhancing technology was chosen over gimmicks and short-term gadgets. Could these ideas be the future of modern retailing?

  • The students pointed out that they are much more likely to buy items that have been honestly reviewed by real customers, and cited bloggers as examples of consumers rewarded regularly by retailers for their widely disseminated reviews. A “Reward 4 Review” programme would encourage real, everyday customers to review products, building up credibility for the retailer, and a more comprehensive picture of product popularity and why. The incentive for the customer review is that a customer who reviews 10 products for example will receive a reward in return from the retailer, e.g. a 10% discount.
  • In-store mapping – It is sometimes frustrating in-store when you can’t find the item you’re looking for. You might have been browsing online, and know exactly what you want. An in-store map, loaded onto the retailer’s app, could direct you straight to the product. Better still, by scanning the product with your smartphone, you should also be able to complete the payment there and then rather than queueing at a till. Retailers will know where its customers migrate to in-store, and where the bestsellers are located.
  • Future fitting room – This idea was very similar to technology showcased at our Nexpo pop-up event. The fitting room “knows” which items have been taken in through a scanning device, and can recommend complimentary products to the customer, which is an opportunity for the retailer to upsell. A swipe to like/dislike feature on the mirror will also enable retailers to know which items are popular and why, and which items are being discarded. The future fitting room will combine a customer’s online profile (customer measurements, previous purchases and searches) with their offline profile (preference for personal experience in store) to tailor the experience more effectively.
  • As seen on – We’ve all been there. You see a picture of a celebrity, or even a friend, in “that dress”, and you want to know where it’s from. The students wanted to experience an app that lets you know where you can buy items that you have pictured on someone/seen online. This would require access to a vast range of retailers’ product data, and software that can recognise items from pictures. But, for the customer who knows exactly what they want, a decrease in browsing time and frustration leads to more positive engagement.
  • Personalisation and VR – Buying online and being unable to imagine the item’s fit is perhaps the biggest downfall of online shopping. However, in the perfect customer journey, virtual and augmented reality technology could give the shopper the closest experience to trying on clothes online as possible, without having to go into a store. From virtually trying the clothes on, the customer knows that once the order is placed, the item is going to fit/close enough to how they imagined it fitting. This results in reduced returns, and a better likelihood of repeat purchases.
  • Know me, know my diary – You have an event in your diary – a charity ball, a festival, a wedding – and your outfit choice is purely centred on the occasion. What if you could give retailers access to your “key dates”, in order for them to tailor suggestions ahead of the event and send you options, with enough time to try and choose the best outfit. This could work in an app form, but the customer would need to be willing to share their sizing information, likes and dislikes, as well as their smartphone calendar.

Much of the technology suggested hangs on one presumption: the consumer being willing to share their data with the retailer. A comment from Business Management undergraduate and Thinkubator contributor, Andre Walters, summed this up in a nutshell:

“…if consumers know that their data is being used for the ‘greater good’, for example the perfect retail experience, then I do believe that more and more consumers will be more inclined to share their data to fuel different innovations. The problem arises when consumers do not want to share their data knowing that they are driving only a company’s ‘profitability’ at a top level. If organisations play off the data we have to improve ‘society’ (at a stretch), then maybe consumers will be more inclined to share.”

What do you think about the Thinkubator suggestions? Are they realistic, or close to the software and technologies being developed at the moment? Post your comments in the box below.

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