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This hot air needs a balloon

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This week’s Internet Retailing Conference at the Hammersmith Novotel in London made some stark points: retail needs a rethink. Mark Lewis of John Lewis alluded to the fact that retail is going to change, and that there is a really long way to go on this journey. But the extent to which change is needed was barely touched on.


As I have complained before – and am about to again – in store retail is an appalling experience, even putting off the hardened browser. Yet there was little evidence on at the conference that much of what needs to change in terms of integrating online and in-store has made much progress.

Naturally the key to this transformation is going to be mobile, yet the discussions that were had at the event were just that: talk. Internet Retailing’s Top 500 retailers project – the initial report of which was published exclusively at the show – reveals that most retailers are pretty much nowhere with mobile. Most don’t even have an app.

Five years ago I sat at Internet Retailing’s conference and listened to the great and the good talking about what mobile promised. Back then it was just a promise, but the technology is here today. Now.

More importantly, the customer drive to create a seamless online-mobile-in store retail experience is there. This is how people shop now.

Talking to some of the vendors at the event was also quite revealing. Many have some really rather stunning solutions to this problem that they are poised to roll out. I am not going to name names as they are about to commence low-key retailer trials and so the promise is there, but I do wonder if this time next year we will still be no closer to solving this pressing retail concern.

Many brands get it. Coca Cola – while rather gung ho about how sugary water can save the world – showcased just how powerful mobile can be at engaging people. This sort of marketing approach is where retailers perhaps should be looking first.

The tie up between marketing, location, loyalty, payments and mobile is the axis around which m-retailing needs to revolve. These things are very well understood in the mobile industry and are relatively easy to start to implement. Yet there are hardly any mobile marketing companies or mobile specialist tech companies in bed with the retailers.

There is a long way to go to change retail, and mobile holds the key. Let’s hope that this time next year we aren’t still just talking about it. The hot air around retail’s impending revolution now needs a balloon.

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