Learnings from Retail Expo 2019


RetailEXPO is Europe’s leading event for retail technology, design and digital signage, providing innovation, stimulation, thought leadership and relevance in today's omnichannel marketplace. At a time when retail is transforming from product-centric to customer-centric, from efficiency to flexibility, from optimisation to inspiration, it’s more important than ever for today’s retailers to continually innovate to meet changing consumer demands. RetailEXPO and other similar events offer the tools, solutions and advice retailers need to run their business.

For the first time this year, RetailEXPO united three UK retail shows — Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE), Retail Design Expo (RDE) and Retail Digital Signage Expo (RDSE) - representing customer expectations for a joined-up experience. As a specialist eCommerce agency working with a variety of leading retailers across various industries, I was excited to see what the event had in store, and particularly new innovations and predictions for the future of online retail.

In his alarmingly titled session ‘Cutting through the hype – Is this really a retailpocalypse?’, Justin King, M&S non-exec director and former boss of Sainsbury’s, argued that e-commerce has not been as much of a disrupting force on the industry as it is often made out to be, stating that online sales only make up about 6%-7% of the total food market in the UK, and while this is twice as high a percentage share as other markets, the press make it out to be much more important than it is.

He said: “If you look at total retail market it is £360bn, about £60bn of that is online, and that is the thing we hear the story about, but that means £300bn is still in shops, and that is almost exactly the same as it was ten years ago.” He blames the media’s obsession with retail closures, an “unfair” business rates system and use of the so-called gig economy to avoid National Insurance and other associated employment costs for ecommerce businesses.

Despite these claims which predictably drew significant attention, digital innovation and connected customer experiences, whether online or in-store, remained key themes at the show. Thinking about store and online as separate business functions battling for consumers business is actually not helpful for retailers. My key takeaway from the event was that those retailers who are bringing bricks and clicks closer together to work in partnership, and to deliver on customer experience, are the retailers that will survive the retailpocalypse.

Other key takeaways:

  • Engaging with consumers on an emotional level is more important than ever
  • Digital solutions are key to every engagement - not just online - retailers are finding ways to optimise the in-store journey to purchase as well as online
  • Tech companies are becoming retailers but can retailers really become tech companies? It’s hard to keep up with new innovations - artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, blockchain, augmented reality, automation - where should retailers put their money? Retailers should start with the customer need and decide what tools will really bring value to their operation. Get the basics right before investing in ‘shiny new’ technologies, and then only invest in the things that make sense for your business.
  • Omni-channel experiences are still top of the agenda - Customers want a unified, frictionless and personalised brand experience, across all touch points wherever and whenever they shop
  • 2019 is the year of conversational commerce - the new competitive differentiator - chatbots, vocal assistance and even greater intelligence driven interaction with retailers’ employees.

Retailers need to understand how stores and online can work together to strengthen each other’s weaknesses. 

9xb is an eCommerce specialist, helping leading retailers overcome barriers to growth through eCommerce strategy, unrivalled technology, digital marketing and optimisation. Get in touch to discuss how we can help you.

See us at eCommerce Expo 2019, September 25 - 26.

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