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R2D2, C3PO and the Death Star of retail

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When I was a kid I was pretty sure that when I was this old there would be robots doing stuff for us. I, of course, would have my own R2D2 and C3PO and my mum would, in all likelihood, have a Dalek that would threaten to exterminate me if I was naughty.

While mother is still pretty disapproving (“when you going to get a proper job” etc…) mum’s Dalek – and any other robot in my life – is conspicuous by its absence.

But perhaps for not much longer: you have no idea the joy I took in writing the sentence “A recent survey on the use of humanoid robots in retail stores, has found that 31% of retailers will be using the technology at some point in the future, with 14% expecting to have it in place in the next 12 months” in this week’s story. C3PO is coming – and retail is where he will make his first true mark on humanity.

The fact that so many people think that robots are going to help us with the shopping gives me renewed faith in mankind (at a very testing time for such faith) even if it is driven by the fact that people think that shopping is no longer convenient. I don’t care: I will take a robot for whatever reason.

But this lack of convenience and the rise of not only robots but all sorts of other technologies is becoming a serious issue across the industry. Young people increasingly see how retail currently works as being rather archaic. A recent survey by Omnico shows that 70% of consumers under 35 want longer shopping hours, a single click and collect hub at shopping malls and a single digital loyalty programme.

Most, so the story goes, want digital loyalty all in one place for all stores, they want click and collect to be a hub for all stores and they want leisure and retail to be closely linked – and all managed via their mobile.

Similarly, mobile payments is once again on the radar, with more than half of UK contactless readers now taking Apple Pay payments of more than £30. This at a leap has taken m-payments from something that is easier to do with a card to something that you can do with your mobile that you can’t do with anything else.

This is again a shift towards convenience. The whole idea of mobile payments is about convenience – I have long said that it won’t take off unless it can add value or be easier than tapping a card or handing over a note: not it is. And boy is it going to fly.

And with this will come the ability to turn payments in to an interactive customer touchpoint. This is very exciting. It may not be like having my own R2D2 to do my bidding, but I must admit (and I am slightly outside the 35 year old demographic), I want these things. I want convenience. I want robots to help me. I want shopping to be space age. Most of all I want it all to work together.

And this requires some leaps by the retail industry. Rather than being Darth Vader and remotely throttling consumer’s desires (either with the Force, or more likely thanks to archaic thinking), retailers need to look at how to join together all the parts that consumers already do and build one mighty Death Star of a retailing outlet.

Just imagine: you step out of the Millennium Falcon and, rather than being shot at by Stormtroopers, your phone tells you to head to The Cantina for a Coffee (and some space jazz), the shoe shop for a 20% discount and Boba Fett’s Olde Sweete Shoppe for a quarter of bon bons (he’s given up the bounty hunting game and retired) to chew on while all the things you’ve bought online while browsing are collated in the central pick up bay. So long as you don’t end up accidentally falling into the rubbish compactor (where there’s no 3G) with an angry Wookie, life and shopping should be good.

This isn’t so far fetched. The technology is there to make it happen today. The consumer desire to make it happen is there. My ridiculous obsession with Star Wars is there to help – this is what the high street needs, or it will be more than just naughty old me that gets exterminated.

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