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Eight new technologies get the X-factor treatment

Thursday 30 June, 2011

Eight new technologies get the X-factor treatment

We always enjoy a good discussion about new technologies at our client conference. This time we had a particularly wide selection of retailers from different sectors around the table including Burberry, Primark, Signet, Halfords, New Look and The Co-operative Group. There was a lot of debate, with eight new technologies to get our teeth into. Our very own Simon Cowell, Geoff Barraclough reveals the technologies that wowed the crowd – and those that were voted off.

1. There were very mixed views on interactive digital signage. It's clearly got a role in the retail mix for specialised applications for the right kind of brand. The technologists in the audience fretted that the vendor messages to retailers were too confused right now and that it wasn't an easy technology to adopt. Video: Virtual footwear wall

2. Everyone loved free in-store wi-fi. There were some concerns about security and content filtering (which can be addressed if retailers work with BT Openzone) but all of us were excited about the possibilities of using wi-fi to communicate with shoppers via customised landing pages and portals. A free network connection is the trade for learning about customers' preferences and behaviours. We'd long suspected that poor 3G coverage indoors was endemic and this was confirmed by the group, but only one retailer present had actually gone ahead and offered free wi-fi to customers.
Article: Why wi-fi will win

3. We always ask about Electronic shelf edge labels (ESLs) but the answer is always no, no, no. These only make sense if a retailer makes frequent price changes which, in the UK, could only be supermarkets. There were some grocers and former grocers in the audience and they were no more enthusiastic than the rest of us. This technology is just too expensive, ugly and inflexible, they said. Fran Risley from Martec did point out that ESLs are commonplace on the continent where they help meet regulatory challenges.

4. There was marginally more support for intelligent shopping trolleys. These have begun to take off in the US and the North Americans round the table used them regularly and were pretty positive. The general view was that attaching technology to a trolley was likely to be an interim solution before intelligent shopping features appeared on consumers' personal devices.

5. Another technology we always include on the list is automated stock counting using RFID. Marks and Spencer has been doing this for years using a BT solution but the rest of UK retail has sat on the sidelines. Fran mentioned that fashion brands in the US were beginning to implement the latest generation of RFID tags but the retailers in the room still believed that the technology was too expensive. Some of the fashion brands mentioned that it was probably worth another look as the demands of cross-channel order management require increasing levels of stock accuracy. Website: Avery Dennison

6. One of the highlights of the conference was demonstration of WH Smith's pilot of self-checkout machines, so we asked for views on self-checkout for non-food. People could see the logic behind WH Smith's move but in general this got a thumbs down for fashion. The luxury retailers couldn't see the point while the value ones thought the complexity of removing security tags/ hangers would slow down the checkout process. Some wondered whether a machine could tempt a shopper as effectively as a pile of chocolate bars on the counter. Article: Should customers serve themselves?

7. There is a lot of investment going into 3D virtual fitting rooms. Our group liked the concept but felt the quality wasn't there yet in terms of both colour accuracy and the way the garments hang on your avatar. Possibly it's most applicable today to retailing children's clothes. Retailers were keener on introducing technology into the real fitting room itself as this is a bit of a black hole in the customer journey. Video: Future of shopping

8. The technology that got most support was QR codes described by one retailer as "one of the most powerful things in years as they unit the physical and virtual worlds so effectively. The only limit is our imagination." Retailers have been experimenting with these and reported mixed results. One said they'd put QR codes on a shop window for a test and received a remarkable number of hits. Another had tried a couple in-store with little success. But what the group particularly liked about QR codes was that they were free. And there's nothing retail likes better than that! Information: Google favourite places

If you'd like to get involved in the debate, come along next year! In the meantime you can see highlights of our 2011 client conference on our website, or call us on 0870 850 6880 for more information.

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