In the first of two articles from EuroShop 2023, Qcom business development manager Annabel Roddy looks at the latest trends in retail technology and considers their wider implications for the sector.
If there is a new or emerging technology, application or trend in the global retail sector, then EuroShop is where you will find it.
The show has every right to style itself as ‘the world’s No.1 retail trade fair’. Across five days at the end of February and beginning of March, more than 81,000 visitors from 141 nations visited Düsseldorf to engage with 1,830 exhibitors. Among them was a small contingent from Qcom, there to visit existing retail customers, to meet and open conversations with future prospects, and to identify the technology trends which will inform our technical service and aftermarket support offering in the years to come.
Despite three astonishingly turbulent years, retail remains the UK’s largest private-sector employer, accounting for 13.8% of all jobs. Faced with the seemingly unstoppable rise of online shopping, in-store technology has become a strategic imperative if our retailers are to stay relevant and profitable.
And, as the show demonstrated, this is currently impacting across four broad themes: experience; convenience; operations; and sustainability.
Central to the future of in-store shopping is the customer retail experience. The sector is increasingly turning to technology to provide the kind of immersive, physical and real-world experiences which the online environment can only simulate or suggest.
Smart fitting rooms can show different product combinations, make recommendations, check availability, advise on different delivery and collection options, and share the results straight to social media. Smart in-store displays can shape the retail environment based on the weather, how busy the store is, or perhaps the day of the week. And the latest technology can also be used to supplement and enhance physical instore features – such as with Nike’s in-store basketball courts, treadmills and football zones where cameras capture the action to allow a member of staff to analyse gait and recommend the right training shoes.
The future of retail imagined at EuroShop is physically and visually stunning, and new technologies underpin it all. Established solutions like kiosks and AV displays are evolving; long-standing technologies like RFID finally seem to be coming of age; and the buzzwords on everyone’s lips are, of course, AI and machine learning.
Regardless of the quality of the retail environment, customers seem unlikely to sacrifice the convenience to which they have become accustomed. The Covid pandemic has had a clear impact here: once customers were forced to switch to online shopping they grew to actively prefer (for better or for worse) a quicker shopping experience, self-led, and with less interaction with people.
The huge range of innovative payment and point-of-sale technologies at EuroShop stood testimony to this desire for fast, low-contact retail – with the ultimate endpoint being perhaps the autonomous / automatic store solutions and ‘walking cashier’ concepts which promise the customer an entirely self-led experience. Hybrid store solutions – staffed during the day and autonomous at night, demonstrate how the retail sector is increasingly looking to marry experience with convenience.
And to make sure that these customers can find what they want, when they want it, advanced data analytics and machine learning is already making a big impact in delivering the convenience, speed and personalisation that customers are used to enjoying online. These can not only help retailers ensure 24/7 product availability, for example, but increasingly be used to anticipate and meet fast-changing customer expectations.
Naturally not all the technology on show at EuroShop was aimed at the customer – the operation of the retail environment also continues to be an area ripe for innovation.
Here, improvements in traditional retail technologies such as printing, cash management and automated key systems rub shoulders with robotics and the new software solutions which are transforming retail workforce management and the omnichannel integration which is connecting workflows such as inventory management, point and sale and fulfilment.
Running through just about everything on show at EuroShop 2023 was the theme of sustainability.
Recycled, recyclable and biodegradable materials were found in everything from packaging to store fittings, and technology was driving thousands of solutions for reducing waste, energy use, and environmental footprints. These solutions were as diverse and varied as the challenges they addressed: reverse vending solutions to track the return of plastic goods for recycling; AV panels which adjust advertising in real time to promote products based on expiry dates; and a huge number of energy management solutions for cooling, heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration – the latter a huge focus for food retailers the world over.
It goes without saying that such a huge focus on retail technology innovation has profound implications for the way manufacturers, distributors and end-user retailers organise the service, repair and support of their in-store equipment. Key themes emerged in conversation after conversation… and those are the subject of my second report from EuroShop 2023, which you can read here.