Disruption is the word

These are marvelous and exciting times to be in the retail industry, isn’t it? Today is often described as a period of disruption, and it very hard to predict what will be the next revolution. Shopping today is getting digital, more efficient, and simpler. Constantly, there are lots of startups and bigger players who deliver new apps, new delivery methods etc. In physical shops for example, via touchscreens or from your smartphone using local apps, you get access to wider collections than you can find within the four walls of the store, you discover extra services and suggestions on how to use items before you purchase, and many more. In the future, it is even predicted that robots will be able to welcome and guide you in the point of sales (Everybody has seen Zora the robot for example). Online it is the same thing. Just think for instance of chatbots that replace helpdesks. And actually chatbots are just one part of the development of artificial intelligence. Many human salespeople will be replaced with new technology.

Boring shopping

Like all of you, I am fascinated and always eager to hear about the new developments that emerge in digital and physical stores. And like many of you I wonder where are we heading. But when I wonder I actually sometimes have some concerns when I hear about Big Data and the rise of the machines. No, no, no, no… don’t worry. My anxiety is not based on the fear that someday machines and super computers will become so smart and strong that the human race will be in peril. So don’t expect me to start a rant about apocalyptical consequences of the use of machine learning. Anyway, lots of movies about that have been made and humans always win in the end.

No my concerns are aimed towards the process of predictive marketing and predictive analysis going a bit too far which could alter the kind of retail experience it could deliver. Everybody knows that all the data you share as a customer can and will be used to improve your retail experience, and of course the retailer’s turnover. However, Big Data is getting bigger and bigger, it’s the one being that won’t go on a diet and is very happy to increase its volume. By growing it helps what experts call Machine Learning. For those who wonder, Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning focuses on the development of computer programs that can access data and use it to learn for themselves. Concretely, what it means is that predictive models can be created to anticipate your next move as a customer. Well imagine if these robots welcoming you in the shop (online or offline) can predict anything you want. They could, based on your previous behavior and the one of all similar customers, tell you what you need, what you will buy and will take. Can you imagine how boring shopping would become? Predictability is the road to boring shopping.




Just a little bit of that human touch

The human cannot be taken out of the shopping process equation. Indeed, there is the need to human contact in the relationship between customer and retailer. But on top of that, there are two important aspects that require the presence of a human.

Firstly, shopping is not just a rational moment of buying something necessary. Sometimes you just want to reward yourself or someone you love with something new. You worked for your money, and so you might as well enjoy fully the process of getting that reward. Also, once browsing the items on sale, you want to be tempted. Sometimes you end up buying something extra, or something different, or even both. Don’t let anyone, especially a machine, tell you your preference on what to get, and how to get it.

Secondly, to complete the shopping experience, a human sales person is the best qualified to pamper a customer. Imagine you buy a luxury item, you get a special haircut, go to the restaurant… a human serving you will get you a free coffee, an extra portion, a free sample, etc. And this, just because it’s you. These are little attentions that only a human can think off. It will create the twinkle in your eye and make your experience better. This way, you’ll be more inclined to visit the same shop again.  If you feel like a number, and are getting a standard basic treatment, how can you feel special? And indeed, each customer feels he or she is a special individual, and demands a personalized treatment.

To conclude, the journey to a better retail is not just about rationality, and more efficiency. The developments in retail are far from over and we can expect a lot more disruptive concepts in the coming years. Machines and new technologies will play a great role and reshape the future. However, I sincerely hope that developers of new ideas will not forget that the human factor and retail go together. 

Between 19 and 21 September 2017, Paris Retail Week will once again showcase French Expertise and will be the only event in Europe which addresses the omni-channel problems associated with 360° retail.
This third edition will bring together in a single event E-Commerce Paris, Europe’s biggest cross-channel event and Digital(in)Store, the leading trade show devoted to the digitisation of points of sale and distribution.

Take advantage of this event dedicated to 360° retail uniting the entire community of on- and offline retail for an optimal vision of current retail issues!
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Free online registration until September 18th, 2017
Registration at the event: 50 Euros incl. VAT