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Editor's Comment: New York confirms 2016 as the year of tech evolution

Keely Stocker

This week’s comment is brought to you from a sunny but very cold New York. I’ve been here for the past three days attending retail technology show NRF with software technology company Demandware, which is showcasing its latest collaborations to improve back-end systems and provide a seamless, personalised customer experience for its partners. 

The exhibition area is absolutely huge and although difficult to spot among the crowds, I’m assured UK retailers are in attendance: John Lewis, Tesco and Jaeger have all been spotted by suppliers.

Speaking sessions are in the main delivered by technology suppliers but retail highlights have included presentations from House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer. House of Fraser chief customer officer Andy Harding gave delegates some insight into the organisational structure changes as the retailers evolves its customer first approach.

Harding interestingly warned retailers not to get too caught up in omnichannel. He said that although retailers should embrace omnichannel practices such as achieving a single customer view and maintaining consistency across channels, they should act as multichannel businesses and treat each sales platform differently to maximise the potential for each.

Citing a target to become a £2bn UK business in the next few years, Harding emphasised how organisational changes at HoF had been paramount. Head of digital product management Sarah Baillie pointed out how important it is to bring employees within the business on the journey and ensure they understand the rationale for change.

Global supply chain manager Li & Fung presented another interesting discussion on how digital will allow retailers to push excellence across the supply chain. Robert Burton, executive vice president at Li & Fung Sourcing highlighted that as production costs continue to rise, margins are being squeezed, and customer expectations of an efficient and speedy supply chain are higher than ever – especially for fast fashion.

He pointed out that, although there is an abundance of data throughout the supply chain, it must be used to improve efficiencies – and a digital cloud-based solution could be the answer.

It was suggested that, if we can gather information from the factory floor and work with fabric providers to insert radio-frequency identification (RFID) into product, retailers gain a level of transparency that will enable them to look at the entire length of the supply chain.

Harding interestingly warned retailers not to get too caught up in omnichannel

Future predictions were an obvious topic throughout the show, and the consensus was that the challenge this year is to join up processes. Executive director for Fung Business Intelligence Centre, Deborah Weinswig, made her predictions for future technology trends in retail including “additive technology” – the application of nano-technology in fabric – to offer intelligent clothing that performs function such as repelling moisture and sensing motion. She also said that 3D printing would evolve and become more mainstream, as will wearables and automated drone delivery, which is already being used by San Francisco pharmaceutical company QuiQui to deliver prescription drugs.

Another of Weinswig’s predictions was the evolution of “smart malls” that use beacon sensors to allow data collection across kiosks, apps and motion-sensing technology. She also cited facial recognition as an area of global growth: 30% of retailers are already using the technology to track customers in store.

Although these predictions are future thinking, it is clear that digital processes are still evolving. In 2016 retailers will be focusing on getting this right in terms of payment systems, streamlined customer experience and integration, to achieve a single customer view, as well as a single product view, and really excel as a leading multichannel retailer.

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