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GUEST COMMENT CES: Five trends for retailers to watch

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Glistening tech and early prototypes were on display at the Consumer Electronics Show held last week in Vegas.

Retailers are waking up to the changing nature of customer behaviour and how technology can meet this head on. The advent of online and mobile commerce is shifting consumers away from the high street, so retailers need to look at new ways to enhance the shopping experience. The technology that was on show will be part of a retail future in which making the retail experience more contextual, personalised and efficient will become increasingly important.


The last few years have seen retailers take a serious step in leveraging smartphones and tablets in-store to give customers a view of available stock online and greater access to it in-store. It’s the perfect complement between the physical and the digital. The next stage in this trend is through wearables. Wearables will form part of an ecosystem, along with iBeacons and face-recognition technology which will change the future of retail in-store.

The influx of wearables caused a huge stir last year at CES, followed by disappointment as companies rushed to debut their innovative and impressive offerings, but falling short of consumer expectations.

However, wearables uptake will be slow in 2015, with many of the hyped devices over the last year not in the market yet, so we are a way yet from talking into our watches. One of the main concerns has been refining these products – from the smartwatches on show to Intel’s Mica (My Intelligent Communication Accessory), a bracelet with a screen that can show texts and other notification – to making them appealing to the mass market. Retailers’ target demographics will be a point to consider in the harnessing of wearables for connected retail; research from GWI suggests that the top 25% of earners are more than twice as likely to have bought a wearable as their counterparts in the bottom 25%.

The opportunity for retailers and wearables also extends to advertising. A talking point at CES was the announcement from TapSense of a new suite of solutions for developers and brands looking at Apple Watch. These would give retailers the opportunity to create apps and ads for this new interactive interface, hyper-local targeting (which could offer discounts for example) and the integration of Apple Pay so that users can purchase straight away.

3D Printing

Ahead of CES, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) announced that the 3D printing footprint has doubled from last year’s show – with more than 30 companies showcasing the latest advances last week. The feeling from attendees was that even though there were more companies – noticeably more start-ups alongside the likes of the established MakerBot and 3D Systems – there was less buzz around the technology this year.

Several retailers already have plans to implement 3D printing into their offering, including Amazon, Wal Mart and ASDA. The 3D printer’s plug-and-print capability sits nicely alongside the advent of click-and-collect among retailers. It is an example of how the online and in-store/physical consumer journey is changing to match what time-poor customers need from retail, to fit in with their lives.

Widespread adoption is still a good deal away. There are barriers to entry with 3D printing – cost and practical use being the two main factors. Designing something that can be successfully printed is still a tricky task, especially with a lack of familiarity around the software.

MakerBot showcased a tablet app called PrintShop, which is designed to let users model within set parameters – it doesn’t allow for creative freedom, but the final results are structurally sound.

When 3D printing does become part of the retail ecosystem, it will firstly be for simple designs and parts – although, at the moment, if sheer volume is needed, then traditional methods of manufacture and retail are faster and more cost-efficient.

The big worry for traditional retailers in that 3D printing can eventually take place at home, with desktop 3D printers as simple and effective as an inkjet printer. This will take footfall away from the physical retail space, so retailers will have to work harder to ensure that in-store 3D printing is either super-efficient and utilitarian or increasingly bespoke and high-spec, in particular for more high-end and luxury retail brands.

Cashless payment

Customers are looking for simpler, more seamless retail experiences, and a key trend which looks set to provide this is cashless payments. This year will see the launch of Apple’s much-discussed mobile payment system, Apple Pay, and at CES, BMW revealed a joint announcement with MasterCard for contactless credit payment to hire, unlock and operate a BMW or MINI vehicle from the DriveNow car-sharing fleet.

This reflects the increasing penetration of cashless into everyday life. According to Mintel research, nearly 40% of UK adults already believe in the inevitability of a ‘cashless society’; coupled with The British Retail Consortium’s survey last year showing that the use of cash by UK consumers has fallen 14% over the past five years indicates that 2015 will increasingly see the rise of mobile payments.

However, a report by YouGov showed that 35% of UK adults are unaware of NFC payment tech. Retail is leading the charge on cashless, so the industry will need to educate customers and staff to ensure the smoothest uptake.


CES attendees couldn’t go very far this year without spotting drones overhead or hearing the buzz of their motors in the air. They even made it into the Intel Keynote, underlined just how seriously companies are taking their emergence.

The CEA has predicted that the drone market will be worth a cool $130m (£86m) this year, a 50% rise on 2014. At CES, the drones on display ranged in size – from personal palm-sized ones intended for video and photo capturing, to those that were bigger for military-use.

Drones have really swept their way into national conversation over the last year, with the media reporting in December that they had become a must-have on Christmas lists. There are certainly still roadbumps to address, such as the underdeveloped battery life of commercial and personal drones and a lack of regulations around their use. Drones for retail became a very mainstream topic of discussion when Amazon announced Amazon Prime Air drone delivery service, but the company is still waiting on permission from the Federal Aviation Administration before it becomes a reality.

Retail robotics

It may be still in the early throes compared to the increasing prominence of wearable tech and 3D printing, but one of the most exciting reveals from this year’s CES, was the potential for robots.

The OSHBOT was the first retail robot to be showcased at CES, developed by Fellow Robots and home improvement chain store Lowe’s Innovation Labs

The OSHbot and more robotics of its ilk will be of real interest to retailers in the future, since they have the potential to provide customers with a much more efficient retail experience and streamline staffing in-store.

Incorporating voice recognition technology and autonomous navigation thanks to laser sensors, these retail robotics have the ability to navigate through stores and communicate with customers to assist with what they require. Robots will also eventually be able to get data direct from mobiles and wearables to identify customers and know their preferences.

Data collection will also be a clear boon for retailers using the robots as they will be able to collect info on what products customers are asking for, and also capture data on the effectiveness of their store layout to meet customer needs.

Peter Veash is chief executive of The BIO Agency

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