The end of disruption

Amelia Kallman, global director of Engage Works, looked at the latest technological innovations likely to change the retail landscape

Kallman began with a striking assertion. “Disruption is one of the most over-used words. It’s all hype designed to scare you,” she said. “The world has always changed and it continues to change. If you think of it as evolution it takes the scariness out of it.”

She pointed out that the barriers between e-commerce and physical retail are breaking down. “Amazon and eBay understand that they have to create experiences, to connect with people a bit more emotionally,” she said.

As an example she pointed to Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, currently being trialled in a store in Seattle. Smart shelves register when an item has been picked up by a customer, identified by their smartphone, and the price is immediately charged to that customer’s Amazon account. “It’s a bold move, taking the human out of the equation,” Kallman said.

But eBay has approached physical retail in a completely different way. Its pop-up in Covent Garden used social media feeds to share customers’ experience of a product. “It’s all about creating community and making people feel they have a connection,” Kallman noted.

But conversely physical retailers are trying to reproduce some of the strengths of e-commerce. “How can stores recreate the personalisation and customisation we see online?” Kallman asked. She believes Virtual and Augmented Reality will go some way to bridge the gap, adding “the social aspect will make it inclusive rather than exclusive.”

And she predicted: “Artificial Intelligence is going to have an impact across the board – if you’re not thinking about it, you should be.” Already brands are using digital mascots to deliver brand messages in a cheeky, fun way and banks are using AI to replace call centres. A voicebot can handle 1,000 calls at once and it can detect emotion in the customer’s voice, handing the call on to a human as soon as it detects the customer is becoming frustrated by the process.

Other applications highlighted by Kallman include Monsoon’s generative artwork that ensures the storefront always reflects the current season’s colours; GMC’s use of facial recognition to deliver personalised ads on a digital six-sheet and Lululemon’s digital mirrors that provide an experience instore that couldn’t be delivered online.

But ultimately technology is only a tool to deliver the traditional basics of retail according to Kallman. “It’s about how to excite, engage and inspire your customers so they keep coming back,” she said. “There has to be a human element – tech for tech’s sake simply doesn’t work.”

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