Ahead of Tech at Retail Week 2019: Technology is Turning Retail More Human

Retail is becoming more human. While customers have never been more demanding of speed they also want a personal experience, necessitating a more advanced technological solution.

These are some of the things I’ve been thinking about as I look forward to this year’s Tech at Retail Week, taking place on 2-3 October at Printworks London.

Hyper-personalisation in the retail space was also a focus at last year’s event, specifically in regards to understanding who the customer is and what they want. This personalisation of retail goes beyond just buying behaviours – it’s also about understanding people’s feelings. Last year, we spent a lot of time talking about what this looks like from a technology perspective, and whether it was a bridge too far. Are people willing to accept retailers getting that up close and personal?

Looking forward to this year’s event we’re already asking, has AI delivered on its promises to start impacting how we make decisions? Have we seen that hyper-personalisation step over the boundary into emotional personalisation?

My feeling is that the answer is still no. But people are experimenting with this technology, and if anything, the trend over the past year has seen people become less patient. Recent studies from Amazon show that 88% of consumers are willing to pay for same day services. We’re seeing a steady rise in services such as Just Eat and Deliveroo, where people can order restaurant meals to be delivered to their doors in less than an hour – and if it’s late you get your money back. Amazon’s upcoming drone delivery service, Prime Air, will mean we can soon have goods delivered to our doors in under 30 minutes.

Consumers have gone through the different stages of expectation and availability, but the trend is clear: we want it – NOW. The logical next step is that the retailer will help us make buying decisions based on our past behaviours: would you like the same thing this Friday as you ordered last Friday? Or maybe what you always order on the 25th of the month, the day you get paid?

For retailers to be able to understand what you want and how you want it, they have to collect our data. And people are starting to accept that trade-off, as long as it comes with benefits: you’ve bought this item several times, do you want to subscribe and save? Soon enough, a retailer may just opt to send you an item it’s pretty sure you’re going to want, and if you don’t, you can just send it back.

People are starting to accept retailers entering their personal space in the name of speed and convenience – sometimes it’s almost as if retail organisations are becoming our friends. Of course, loyalty programmes go far back – I remember back in the day when we used to get little green stickers at the shops and put them in a book, and you could swap them for gifts and toys. But the privacy fears that many of us had when loyalty programmes first went digital is starting to fade. We’ve seen over the past 12 months that people are willing to put up with a little security risk in order to get convenience and rewards – at least up to a certain point.

Consumers are still very sensitive to security breaches. We’ve seen tighter integration between banks and retail customers now, for example, as well as sharper-than-ever protocols for data protection. At Rackspace, we’re seeing this play out behind the scenes, as we provide managed security to a number of retailers and our ability to detect threats and respond to them can be down to seconds.

To make it in today’s market, retailers have to be top of the game. A consumer may be willing to forgive a single incident, but it needs to be fixed fast, and it better never happen again. I look forward to more illuminating conversations at Tech at Retail Week about how there’s an increasingly human aspect to retail, ironically delivered by AI.

At Tech at Retail Week, I’ll be in the Rackspace pub garden, where us Rackers will be exchanging stories with visitors about how we can help our customers on their digital transformation journeys to move faster in this competitive space. But having this chat in a pub garden is a reminder that as much as we want everything quickly, sometimes we need to stop for a moment and recharge our batteries – before we can go out there and be quick again.

Reach out to Rackspace for expert advice on making your cloud journey a success from beginning to end for retailers.

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As Chief Technology Officer for Rackspace EMEA, Lee James is responsible for helping customers accelerate the value of their business through our people, processes and technology. He is the executive sponsor for a number of EMEA customers, and leads the strategic development of Rackspace EMEA products and services. Lee has more than 20 years of experience across large scale, multinational and agile-based environments, developing and implementing industry-leading cloud, analytics, digital strategy and transformation to deliver significant business value to customers. His prior experience includes senior roles with the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index, BP, Betfair and GlaxoSmithKline. At Betfair, Lee was responsible for delivering a DevOps-driven platform that performed more transactions than all the European stock markets each day. At BP, he was recognized for building the company's first multi-cloud platform.

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