Disruptive technology: A triumph of human creativity expanding our mental horizons or a further step towards dystopia? In 2017 venerable retailers Sears and Toys ‘R’ US were pushed into bankruptcy, while online giant Amazon bought organics specialist Whole Foods for $13.7bn. These events look very much like harbingers of the future.

Last year our panel of retail experts looked ahead and were concerned about politics (cf. Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Brexit). But even Tesla co-founder & CEO Elon Must think they now ought to be worrying more about Artificial Intelligence.

Disruptive technology: A triumph of human creativity expanding our mental horizons or a further step towards dystopia? (c) Shutterstock

Like all technology, machine learning systems can be a blessing or a curse, depending on who employs them and for what purpose. AI could help us to use less fertiliser and revolutionise subsistence farming in the developing world, but it could also begin to control us. So does AI keep the gurus awake at night, or will they prefer to sing the praises of drones and robots?


Pepper or Hal 9000?

Pepper, the robot, serves a delighted young customer at a Carrefour store in France. (c) Carrefour

Certainly, Pepper, the big-eyed humanoid robot designed by Aldebaran Robotics and Japanese tech company SoftBank, doesn’t look particularly threatening. French retail giant Carrefour has been testing this cute piece of plastic in a service role at three stores. Although “he” seems to be a little hard of hearing at times, most customers are intrigued and charmed. Pepper is a particular hit with the youngsters.

But will robots eventually liberate humans from tedious repetitive tasks or turn homicidal like Hal 9000 in the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey? Some fear they might also become relentless taskmasters supervising our precarious existence within the gig economy.

Brave new world?

A similar situation applies to the ‘internet of things‘. Does it enrich our homes or allow ever more intrusive FANG companies to pry into every aspect of our private lives?

Meanwhile, technology has not prevented either the egg contamination or horsemeat scandals. Huge amounts of food continue to be wasted on a planet where there are still far too many hungry people. Global warming gains momentum as we fail to kick our addiction to fossil fuels and keep belching greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Our rivers and seas are now so clogged with garbage that ever more plastic enters the food chain.

Convenient for whom?

Plastic bottle washed up on the shore (c) Fotolia

Retailers and the food industry have much to answer for here. Even a handful of berries comes in plastic boxes these days.No one asked shoppers whether they wanted all this packaging. Or have you ever heard sales staff ask: “May we smother this in plastic for you, Madam/Sir?” Yet the trade continues to claim that it is we consumers who demand convenience at all costs. One can only ask, convenient for whom?

Who needs a driver?

Baby, you can drive my car: CargoPod – Google Drive. (c) Google

Baby, you can drive my car: CargoPod – Google Drive. Not all is doom and gloom in the world of mass consumption, however. Many retailers are trying to be the solution rather than the problem. As electric vehicles gradually become mainstream, online pure player Ocado is experimenting with unmanned delivery vehicles in the UK, and Schwarz Group will follow suit in autumn 2018 in Sweden.

Next year Germany’s most profitable discounter, Aldi, will ban all non-reusable bags, regardless of whether they are plastic or paper.

Urban gardening

Love on a rooftop: Organic garden over a Kaufland hypermarket. (c) Kaufland

Lidl has also added its name to the roll of environmental merit. The German discounter became the first retailer to be awarded the ‘zero waste’ certificate in Spain this July. Meanwhile, sister hypermarket company Kaufland is busy experimenting with organic gardening in the car parks and on the rooftops of its hypermarkets in Rumania.


Article originally published on http://www.german-retail-blog.com 

Save the date for the next Paris Retail Week show from 10 to 12 September 2018

For its 4th edition, the biggest European trade event will take its full scope and will gather in Pavilion 1 of Paris expo Porte de Versaillethe e-commerce sector, dedicated to solutions for e-retailers, ranging from digital marketing to logistics, and the Store / Equipmag sector, dedicated to physical commerce and distribution.

Pour sa quatrième édition le plus grand événement retail européen de la rentrée prendra toute son envergure et réunira dans le Pavillion 1 de la Porte de Versailles le secteur E-Commerce, dédié aux solutions e-commerce, du digital marketing à la logistique et du secteur Store / Equipmag, dédié au commerce physique et à la distribution.