A quarter of SME retailers fear lack of tech investment will stymie growth

Shoppers want more in-store tech when shopping for fashion (Image: Shutterstock)

Shoppers want more in-store tech when shopping for fashion (Image: Shutterstock)

Almost a quarter of mid-market retailers fear the lack of investment in technology is a barrier to remaining competitive, which could hamper the post-Covid recovery for the sector.

The survey revealed that 23% of the 250 retailers questioned see the lack of technology investment as one of the key barriers to growth, which is why so many are looking to implement core digitalisation into their businesses this year.

Around three quarters of retailers questioned have or will implement big data (76%) and blockchain (70%) into their businesses to map consumer behaviour and protect the integrity of supply chains. Whilst almost a third of retailers are planning on implementing AI and machine learning in the next 12 months to drive sales; enhance brand loyalty; and improve the customer experience online and in-store.

Unsurprisingly with a greater focus on data and online expansion, over a third of retailers see implementing an effective cyber risk strategy as a key priority for the next two years.

RSM’s What’s in Store? spoke to 250 retail executives to gauge what issues and consumer trends are driving boardroom conversations and business priorities for the future. Jacqui Baker, head of retail at RSM UK, explains: “The acute, but temporary, impact of the coronavirus pandemic will leave a lasting legacy on the retail sector. It has not only accelerated digital change, but consumer buyer habits have now permanently altered; and the last-mile fulfilment, flexible and faster delivery and personalisation will drive digitalisation across the sector.”

Technology is pivotal to enhancing consumer experiences, but it also presents new challenges that retailers will need to navigate. Whether it’s cyber risk or automated stock management errors, many retailers are cautious about the added disruption new technologies might bring.

Ben Bilsland, technology industry senior analyst at RSM UK, adds: “From the adoption of AI chatbots to help with online customer queries, to the use of blockchain to stamp out counterfeiting of luxury goods, retailers have been experimental and innovative in their quests to remain competitive. Investment in technology can help to enhance the customer experience, predict buyer habits, improve stock management and better plan marketing spend. However, retailers also need to consider the environmental impact of their business and investments. They need to be sure that the drive for digitalisation, or growth elsewhere within their business, do not derail the environmental and social impact of the brand.”

Baker concludes: “This is why the Government needs to step up and announce support in the Autumn Budget to help retailers implement innovation change to enhance the customer experience and drive growth across the sector.”

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