Opinions on trade shows tend to differ greatly. To some, they are a monumental waste of money and/or time for businesses, offering little more than a handful of irrelevant business cards. To others, they are a fundamental date in the calendar for new business, and for which major corporate and customer news is held back, in order to make the biggest splash possible.

Having heard these opinions from both clients and prospects alike, I try to see both sides. Yet I’ve always had a fondness for RBTE, the UK’s major retail tech show held at the Olympia each spring.

With a host of our current clients attending or exhibiting, it offers a great opportunity to network and gain a greater understanding of the issues and challenges, topics and themes disrupting the fascinating retail industry.

The usual mega trends around POS (point of sale), cash handling, data collection and supply chain were obviously visible, while I finally got to meet Pepper the robot, who stole the show in 2017. This wasn’t necessarily a key goal of mine, but having seen the diminutive little chap in just about every social post last year, I was more than a little curious…

But I digress. The one point that was hammered home time and again, on stands, in discussions and in speaker panels, was that of customer experience. People are more demanding, less trusting and expect relevant information instantly. A statistic given at the event was that 89% of companies are now competing on customer experience, not product. That is a quite incredible shift.

One of the sessions I enjoyed attending in the Retail Technology Conference was led by Vicki Cantrell, a retail transformation officer at Aptos. In a wide-ranging discussion, she told the crowd that any time a consumer is exposed to a better digital experience, their expectations are reset to a new, higher level consumers expecting better digital experiences from all sectors – not just retail – if the bar is raised by anyone they interact with.

The importance of breaking down data silos and the death of loyalty points are clearly issues that will continue to significantly challenge retailers, but what I particularly enjoyed was her view on organisational change.

On a couple of occasions Vicki dismissed the typical view that “I won’t be able to change my organisation on my own” and encouraged proactive staff to get together across different units to make a business case.

So, while the usual big buzzwords such as AI, personalisation, customer experience and omnichannel, will dominate column inches in the trade media as always, it was this message of hope, proactivity and partnership that will stick with me. It is clear that there is a talented and hungry community of vendors seeking to make the retail industry run smoother – what is now needed is the realisation, throughout all parts of the retail ecosystem, that these goals can be achieved.


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