Tech. Retail Week is a two-day event held for retailers, industry leaders and retail technology suppliers. At a time when the digital revolution is challenging traditional retail models, there’s never been a greater need for such an event to take place. Held at the iconic Printworks venue in London from 12th-13th September, 2500+ attendees, 800+ businesses, and 180 captivating speakers gathered to share insights and knowledge. This year HSO attended, and we bring you our key learnings below.

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) – it’s potential and limitations

Although AI continues to be a hot topic, many spoke of its limitations. Matt Harris, Director at Information Services Group advised against thinking AI can solve every issue, blaming “marketing hype” for over inflating how influential this technology can be. Referring to weather data and its impact on the supply chain, he said “It’s now being marketed so much that people think ‘AI is going to solve all my problems.’

Despite these words of caution, the power of AI and its capabilities remained a prominent theme. We heard how AI can be used to help retailers understand consumer emotions and characteristics, according to Alex Berezovskiy, CEO at Wonder Founder. Analysing content from a user’s social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter provides an abundance of information on their personality, values and needs.

  1. Be a digital pioneer

Constantly evolving technology offers the opportunity to be innovative. Martin Wild, Chief Innovation Officer at German retail giant MediaMarktSaturn, says businesses should be “willing and able to transform over and over again” as technologies evolve. As MediaMarktSaturn grew in popularity, it initially failed to adapt to ecommerce – until 2011 they had no online presence. Since then, however, it has learnt to be at the cutting edge of new tech innovation. One such area of innovation is Robotics. MediaMarktSaturn believe they offer a better consumer experience with in-store robots that offer customers another way to interact. “Innovation will never be as slow as it is today – it will constantly pick up speed” says Wild.

  1. The pursuit of innovation

One theme from the event was to be bold and experimental with new technology, and to some this meant lots of testing and being unafraid to fail. From Dropbox’s ‘noble failure’ reward, to a ‘test and learn’ marketing strategy from Birchbox, companies are focusing more on creating a workplace culture that promotes innovation. Argos Digital Director Mark Steel spoke of using their mobile app to try out the most cutting edge technology, including an Augmented Reality tool that lets customers see how items will look in their home before purchasing. “It’s early days, but getting something out there to test customer reaction has been really exciting for us,” said Steel.

  1. Beyond technology

Even with the latest technology and a well thought out plan to implement it, businesses can still struggle to make an impact. Having the right people, both motivated and understanding digital trends is key to success. Sally-Anne Newson, director of customer experience and digital products at Shop Direct said, “retail’s biggest challenge is the mind-set shift we need in our people to embrace technology”. No longer dictated to by the “highest paid person”, the technology team at Shop Direct now take the lead on resolving technology problems.

The best of the rest
Tech. Retail Week succeeded in covering an abundance of talking points. Catching our attention was the discussion around increasing hack vulnerability (168 malware variants in 2014 vs 27,000 in 2017), as well as the dominance of the online marketplace, why culture matters, and the rise of brand marketing. Whether companies should build or buy software, and how eight year olds are becoming more tech savvy than their parents were other interesting topics, both leaving much debate around the future of retail.