After 12 years working at Cadbury, which later became Kraft, David Evans joined Kantar Retail in 2013 to head up the firm's virtual reality division. Last year he became managing director of Kantar's Market Insights, where he and his team of analysts keep up to date with the latest happenings in retail and forecast how disruptions, like technology, will impact the industry.
ER: So let's start with virtual realty. Is virtual reality now ripe for the retail industry?
DE: Virtual reality is much more mainstream than it ever was. People understand it now and also see the potential for it, which was difficult five years ago. Consumers are always a faster adopter of these technologies and VR has been much more in the entertainment space, but for retailers and suppliers it's more about planning and execution without the cost. So retailers will plan stores and ranges using VR – it's a tool to help them go faster and become more agile and they can do that with VR.
Imagine a store concept design might take 26 weeks to create, but you can build a store in four weeks virtually. So cost and time is a huge saving and it's a platform many departments can collaborate on and not have to work in silos anymore.
ER: So the retail benefit of VR is more for B2B purposes than a consumer shopping from their sofa wearing a headset?
DE: You can see chat bots and all these other technologies coming into eCommerce, which is going to help it become an engaging experience, but up until now, eCommerce is pretty clinical, it's list-style shopping, it's not an experience.
But consumers are not going to use VR to do their weekly shop, walking up and down the virtual bleach aisle – that's not going to happen. What you might want to do is experience products and brands in a VR experience to help you understand what's there and learn about wine for example.
ER: So I might be sitting back on my sofa sipping a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and pop on my headset to be transported to the winery?
DE: You're not going to shop household bleach in a VR setting, there's no experience required. But consumers could go and experience a vineyard with VR, put on the headset and have a quick 360 tour with facts and information. That's how it evolves into a much more interactive experience. And that's the way to make it more dynamic and not just sit back and view, you have to engage. But so much of VR tech will enable that – but it is about experience.
ER: What's your favourite piece of technology you use everyday?
DE: It's probably the fact that everything is Wi-Fi'd up onto one device, so I can start my car, control my music system, do my shopping, pay for stuff – everything through my mobile phone (an HTC Android). Technology at our fingertips is what I love more than anything, I can't stand cumbersome technology, if it's too difficult for me to use, I'm not likely to engage with it. All the technology that's in my hand is what I like the most.
ER: What's your favourite app?
DE: This sounds really dull and boring, but I have all the transport apps, so Trainline is so easy to buy tickets and Uber is just so easy and instant and real time – I know exactly how the trains are performing because I just use the app.
ER: What worries you about the technology impacting retail today?
DE: It's not a worry, but it's just conscious thought about what will happen, but. I think people will want to naturally deselect parts of technology because it's too invasive and it's not helpful.
There's so much of it, and we're not necessarily seeing the full picture. It's like the payment scanning apps, so I can have one app to do the scanning, but I need another for the payment and there's not way of tying it all together. When you can see the possibilities of technology to streamline and simplify shopping experiences, it's frustrating when they're all separated. Some retailers doing one bit, another doing the other, but no retailers are doing everything.
And what's the data impact of all of this? Who's going to own all the data and how is going to be used? Whether you're the retailer, brand owner or payment vendor, how is the data going to be used and is that good or bad for consumers? That's why I think security is such a hot topic.
ER: Should retailers be worried about the impact Brexit will have on the industry?
DE: I don't think so more than any other trends in the market. If you think of eCommerce and cross-border selling, will Brexit have an impact? Maybe. What is certain about Brexit is uncertainty. We talk to our clients about how to manage uncertainty and how to manage your shoppers and be prepared and be agile. But Brexit could be really profitable and beneficial for a lot of businesses to open up a lot of opportunities.
ER: How about Amazon? We should be worried about that innovation powerhouse, right?
DE: We live in an omnichannel world, but the world we're heading into is channel-less – it won't be defined as physical and digital, it will just be shopping. Amazon wants brand owners to push their goods through amazon, they're trying to get to suppliers, so I don't think it's a worry. But you have to think about how to participate or how to compete – it's no different to traditional retailers competing with discounters. We’re all competing all the time, so we should plan our business in the retail landscape.