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EDITORIAL The time is literally a-changing

It’s been quite a week. We saw the 30thanniversary of the ‘birth’ of the internet – the reason why we are here and why you are reading this. It also saw more Brexit uncertainty. Also, in a somewhat timely fashion, if you’ll pardon the pun, it also saw Russian scientists reverse time in a quantum computer.

With regard to Brexit, one could argue that they are too late (if indeed scientists who can manipulate time can be too late?) and with regard to the web, I like to think that they are too early – it will be great to see what quantum computing does for retail on the 60thanniversary of the web – and, as we shall see, retailers are investing in new tech.

And to round off a week of madness, remember today is Pi Day – well in the US, since the date there is 3.14 – and many retailers that sell ‘pies’ are going to be offering stuff at $3.14. What times we live in.

What these events all tell us, though, is that we are living in extraordinary times. Hey, Apple is even looking likely to roll out VR glasses later this month. Everything we know is slowly being questioned and changed – a situation that many retailers are only too accustomed to.

However, while uncertainty is clearly a business disruptor for many, anecdotal evidence from among both the retailer and supplier community suggests that technology investment is, if anything, on the up.

This is good news. As retailers struggle to sell on the High Street and with Brexit breathing down the necks of online merchants too, the fear is that spending on making services better will dry up. However, talking to various industry people this week, I feel that that is very much not the case.

This mood is bolstered by John Lewis last week announcing a 56% dive in profits, but that despite this a continuation of its on going £400m to £500m investment in new tech. It seems that John Lewis is not alone, with many retailers also continuing to invest.

But what should they be investing in? For those with a High Street presence, things like Scan & Go are an obvious – and relatively simple to adopt – place to start. In the US this week, Walmart subsidiary Sams Club has rolled out an enhanced app that allows shoppers to scan stuff and pay for it, all from the app.

Sams Club is also looking at how the app can be used to enhance Click and Collect processes for both retailer and shopper – something echoed here in the UK this week by Zara, which is centralising distribution to cater to omni-channel demands, as well as investing in RFID in store to aid Click and Collect processes.

Meanwhile, telecoms giant BT is replacing all the red phoneboxes in Belfast city centre with nine ultra-modern InLink units to offer free super-fast wifi to shoppers and retailers, as well as a place to charge mobile devices.

This investment across all these retailers is symptomatic of how the brave – and those with the money – are looking to evolve as the world around them changes. But it isn’t just changing for those on the high street: online retailers also face challenges that technology holds the answer to.

Loyalty is much under rated when it comes to shaping online retailing, with most shoppers wanting points that get them cheap or free stuff. However, a study by the DMA reveals that actually what works for shoppers – remember, not necessarily what they think they want, but what yields the best ROI – is experiences.

Its research finds that shoppers respond best to getting things like priority access to real world events and goods ahead of time, as well as making retailers look at how offering great customer experience in of themselves can yield better loyalty than simply offering points.

Together, these ideas show that whole the world is in a state of flux and retail is being squeezed, innovation is coming to the fore. So, while we reel under the ever changing moods and whims of the world, it is important to note that this change is actually going to be what is needed to make things better.

And if it all goes wrong, soon we will be able to turn back time. Or has that happened already? To quote the late and legendary Roky Erickson “I have always been here before”.

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