Technology caused a decline in personalised retail experiences in the ‘50s. What if it can revitalise customer experience in 2018?

By Lisa Hancox, Head of Marketing

As someone who has spent half my communications career working in the retail industry, this is a subject very dear to my heart. Despite all the immense transformations that the sector has seen, the age-old maxim, “retail is detail”, is still totally true. Whatever changes and challenges retailers face, the more attention to detail given to range, price, promotions, demand planning, distribution and communications, through an omnichannel lens of course, the better.

Two significant transformations have taken place in the last couple of generations that have led me to the realisation that we are no longer a nation of shopkeepers, but instead a nation of ‘experience-providers’. The shopkeepers, big or small, online, offline or both, that are introducing personalised experiences, are thriving.

Self-service tills were arguably the first technological catalyst that created less personal experiences in the retail industry. In 1950, after Alan Sainsbury made a trip to the US to investigate new styles of tills, Sainsbury’s opened the first self-service store in the UK. It was a 10,000 sq ft branch in Croydon, and the retailer later added a car park for customers’ convenience. The chain became a large-scale supporter of the technology in the 50s and 60s and expanded the initiative to many more stores.

Brits had to wait a number of years before the second real technology transformation took place and it came in 1998 when Amazon.co.uk launched as a retail website selling only books. This was closely followed by the creation of aggregator sites like lastminute.com and price comparison sites like Kelkoo. It would be a number of years before companies like these were able to increase personalisation online — initially, they reduced it.  They took previously personalised offline experiences — like shopping for books in a bookstore or buying a holiday in a travel agent and talking with knowledgeable staff — and let the first iteration of AI manage it online. Now, it’s obvious these were the brands that changed the retail landscape in the UK forever, creating what is now a highly personalised and intelligent e-commerce ecosystem, combined with the sophistication of online advertising, that probably understands our buying needs before we do.

In 2018, technology and personalisation are increasingly colliding to create exciting and sophisticated experiences. In stores, retailers are trying to make shopping highly personalised, using technologies such as digital and RFID price tags, kiosks, smart mirrors and more. Recent research by our client, Ecrebo, the point-of-sale marketing specialist, found that 44% of UK shoppers shy away from brands that don’t offer them personalised, relevant offers. And our client, Vista, a leading IT services company for the retail and hospitality sectors, recently researched consumer attitudes and found 61% said they wanted retailers to give them a real in-store buzz, using personalised technologies including kiosks, interactive screens and smart mirrors. Online, shop bots, live voice and online help widgets and ‘try before you buy’ techniques are leading the way. And when a retailer combines the two with social service, well, it doesn’t get much better….

In a few weeks, the leading retail technology conference, RBTE, kicks off. We’ll be attending and looking forward to some of the key themes that will be discussed and showcased, including omni-channel payment strategies, customer data security best practices, AI, supply chain innovations and of course, personalisation. And we’ll be reporting from the conference too.  Plus, during April we’re showcasing our retail tech experience and insights about working with top providers on our social media pages – and you can read our retail credentials in this Slideshare below. From case studies to blogs and that reporting from RBTE, follow @WhiteoaksPR on Twitter for it all.