The Future of Retail London 2016

Head of Fashion and Retail
Kirstin Howard

October 26, 2016

On Thursday 13 October we spent a very special evening gazing over the rooftops of London from Browne Jacobson’s stunning new offices, contemplating what the future holds for retail. Both Valtech and Browne Jacobson were thrilled to be able to share this evening with retailers from a whole host of different sub-sectors, including luxury fashion, electronics and bespoke furniture.

Our guest futurologist, Sophie Hackford, kicked off the evening with a whirlwind overview of some of the latest technologies, acknowledging that it is easy for people to dismiss some of these new ideas as “fads” - she went on to point out that this was exactly how AT&T had first viewed the internet…

Sophie spoke about the way in which technology would become increasingly invisible: just a natural extension of the way we lead our lives and referenced Google’s Project Jacquard which is enabling gesture interactivity and the Teslasuit, which allows the wearer to “feel” virtual experiences. The new normal will be computers “bending themselves to us”; we will think it’s “crazy we ever typed anything”.

We learnt about conversational interaction; the next frontier in the quest for seamlessness. WeChat was cited as an example of an interactive platform to which you ask just the key questions such as “when does my local supermarket close this evening?”, as opposed to being bombarded by unnecessary information. Sophie’s assertion is that in the future you might be asking “what would Alexa do?” when confronted with a spontaneous and unsolicited swimming pool in your flat as opposed to Googling local plumbers. Amen Amazon.

From the user’s perspective, this kind of frictionless interaction seems great in many ways but from the retailer’s point of view this means completely rethinking the way we engage with customers. Answering specific questions in this way from a diverse customer base can only mean one thing: Artificial Intelligence (AI), and it goes beyond just the facts; we explored how systems such as Eliza will be able to detect different emotions and respond appropriately – just like some of the more empathetically attuned humans.

We explored the world of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), discussing not only the amazing experiences and interactions that these technologies can enable but also the huge amounts of data they will produce on how customers interact and react emotionally in virtual worlds. We also considered the impact of satellites and their ability to gather data such as the number of cars in a certain car park. The key for retailers will be working out what to do with this data to improve experiences, understanding and responding to customers’ behaviour in the right way and consequently driving up transaction volume and frequency.

Sophie was then joined by our expert panel - James Reid, EMEA IT Director at Deckers Brands, Dan Klein, Valtech’s Chief Data Officer and Mark Gleeson, Browne Jacobson’s Partner in Data Protection. We covered the challenges facing today’s retailers: siloed data, data quality issues, and how to integrate across organisations to help provide customers the straightforward, slick experiences they crave.

Amongst other topics, the panel considered the challenge of creating seamless, cross-channel experiences vs. the need to respect customers’ privacy. Dan and Mark raised the topic of generational contrasts in attitudes towards data usage: younger customers are more likely to be more comfortable with the difference between anonymity and privacy and more open to sharing data; while older customers will often be more sceptical about how their data is being used and are more likely to ask that someone else looks after their data to ensure its security. Mark made the particularly important point that “innovation is still possible” and “we can, and clients should, continue to work to understand their customers to provide an enhanced understanding of what they do”.

Dan went on to discuss Agile data, pointing out that the same “test and learn” approach often used in design and development can also be applied to data. He said that retailers should experiment and accept that they will fail; not being afraid to make mistakes is so important in this rapidly changing digital world.

Our evening was wrapped up with some intriguing questions from the audience followed by drinks, canapés and many more conversations as we mulled over what this all meant for retailers today and indeed, in the future.