London is a compelling place to go if your thing is 'retail'. I’ve been in and around the retail business most of my adult life, and in the course of my travels I’ve learned that to get a well rounded view of the industry’s challenges, you have to look beyond your 'home market'. I’m lucky enough to live in Northern California, and have enjoyed the idiosyncrasies of the San Francisco region since moving from the East Coast in the late 1960’s. But if living here has taught me one thing, it’s that SF isn’t all that representative of America, and America isn’t necessarily the best place to observe global retail.
There are places where you can get a really good perspective on how retailers are competing for the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of consumers. Chicago’s “Miracle Mile”, New York’s 5th Avenue, and Düsseldorf’s Kö district all come to mind. But for me there is no place on Earth as fascinating as London. Whether observing the competition between the City’s grocers, Tesco’s struggles to get onto a better footing, or John Lewis’ efforts to stay on top of its game, there’s something for every retailer from anywhere to learn.
But the most interesting challenges for retailers today are driven by consumers’ digitally-enabled shopping behaviors. As we all know from our daily lives, we have a world of information at our fingertips, and can 'shop' anytime and anywhere for anything, using our internet-connected mobile devices. That in turn creates a huge challenge for retailers – how to get consumers to come to the stores? In the 'old days', if you wanted to browse through products, you had to go to a store. Now you carry the store around with you in your pocket or purse! So why go to a store at all?
That’s the challenge retailers are trying to address, and shoppers can see it unfolding right on Oxford Street, where retailers are working to bring the digital experience into the stores in new, exciting, and even entertaining ways. Whether it’s offering 'click & collect' in the store, using augmented reality at the makeup counter so that consumers can virtually 'try' new colours, or displaying 3D renderings of the latest fashions, it’s happening right now in London.
The Retail Business Technology Expo in London (May 8-9 2017, London Olympia) is a combined event that features both the latest in retail technology and innovative digital signage for the physical space. It’s a brilliant combination! In today’s retail environment, 99% of all the innovations consumers can see in the store has a digital component. What is different from times past is that these innovations aren’t being forced onto unsuspecting consumers, but are actually being demanded by consumers by virtue of their digitally enabled shopping behaviours.
At the RBTE event, it all comes together in one place for two days. Attendees can hear about the convergence of the digital and the physical in the store from retailers themselves. And then to top off the experience, event attendees can get on over to Oxford Street to see many of those innovations in action in the real world.
So I’ll see you there! I’ve been told (repeatedly) that Americans – and particularly Californians – stick out like a sore thumb, so I should be easy to spot. Be sure to say “hi!”