Five things we learned at Future Stores London

May 23, 2018

I left this year’s Future Stores conference feeling hugely excited about the retail sector.

Over two days in London I had the pleasure of listening to some amazing presentations, meeting some great people, and witnessing an enormous amount of enthusiasm. If you couldn’t make it to the show itself, here are my top five takeaways!

1. China has been quietly leading the charge in retail innovation.

While many of us look to the tech hubs of Europe and the U.S for the latest innovations, it’s China that’s been paving the way for what Mei Chen, Alibaba’s Head of International Business, calls “New Retail”. New Retail isn’t about digital vs non-digital channels. It’s about a blended experience that combines the best of both. After revealing that in China 90% of digital transactions happen through mobile, Mei Chen shared the example of Starbucks – which in partnership with Alibaba – has created a truly experiential store in Beijing combining augmented reality and location-aware apps.

2. Omni-channel is dead. Long live “New Retail” 

Following Mei Chen’s Alibaba examples, several speakers agreed that the industry is moving beyond omni-channel. While work and investment has happened to connect channels at a system and process level to improve the supply chain; consumers, it seems, really don’t care.To them it doesn’t matter whether it’s a digital or a non-digital channel – all they want is continuity, recognition, and personalization. For that to happen, we need to stop treating in-store shoppers as strangers. 

3. Voice is the next frontier in online retail

The growth of smart, connected home speakers could translate into massive opportunity for retailers; but as yet, no one really knows how.

Amazon’s Head of Enterprise, Natasha Toothill, shared the stat that 1.8bn smart speakers are expected to be in use by 2021. However, while most agree that voice-enabled interactions represent opportunity for greater digital personalisation and a chance for brands to connect with consumers in their homes, successful examples are still few and far between. Some brands are looking at voice as a transactional channel to sell products, while others are experimenting with it for brand activation – such as Tide’s stain removal Alexa skill.

4. Retailers need a new way to measure store performance

There was no shortage of enthusiasm for “experiential retail”. The fusion between retail and experience has exploded in the last few years, and several brands took to the stage to share examples of how they’d created in-store experiences to help differentiate themselves.

However, no one tackled the elephant in the room; that stores are still being treated as individual P&L’s with store associates driven by sales targets only, and no attribution model in place to acknowledge the contribution that a flagship, experiential store might make to a digital purchase.

Where retailers are looking to explore the opportunities of building in-store experiences, surely changes to how store performance is measured must be considered?

5. Enthusiasm is high!

Not a week goes by when we don’t read a new story about the “death of the high street”. Sure, it’s been a challenging time for many, but what many of these commentators fail to see is that it’s not a fight between bricks and mortar, and their online competition. The physical high street doesn’t need to change – retailers do. That might mean creating experiential retail destinations, experimenting with “rent, not buy” business models, or even leveraging the sharing economy.

Having listened to some amazing presentations, and seen the sheer amount of innovation happening, I feel more confident than ever!

Barney Craggs, Chief Commercial Officer, Concrete

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