Photo courtesy Charlie Round-Turner show photo

Blogs and News

23rd Jul 2018

Digital Transformation Comes to Retail

Shopping could soon be boosted by new techs including AI and VR


Retail shopping is changing. You can’t digitise a pair of jeans or a nice cake, but the most tech-alert retailers are making the shopping experience digital, and reaching more customers or selling more to existing customers using modern technology.

Shopping and stores are traditionally a conservative business sector, which takes time to adapt. The shopping experience hasn’t really changed much in 100 years, and low margins make for cautious approaches towards innovation.

A recent study showed 82% of smart phone users consult their phones in the store while deciding what to buy. It makes sense that those shoppers can now use mobile pay—from a growing number of providers—while they’re at it.

Smart beacons alert a customer who is near to the store via bluetooth so they can be sent special offers and discount coupons. Wandsworth is already ahead of the game here, with the Chamber pioneering this a couple of years ago.

The most obvious innovation in this sector is Amazon Go – the shop where AI and cameras/ rfid tags and the like monitor shoppers, and charge you automatically when you leave for the goods you actually want. It is certainly novel, some people will abhor the lack of privacy, but others will appreciate the convenience, especially if you have stood in a queue for the checkout for a long time. Part of the intention behind this is not saving on the wages of store assistants, but Amazon’s major goal of analysing the behaviour of customers, to get more data to deep-mine and sell, so it’s not just what you buy, but what you put back on the shelf when you see the price. Do you just zip in for what you have on your list, or do you dawdle, look at lots of products, and impulse-buy?

There are a large number of tech companies experimenting in this sector. Surprisingly, this includes the creative software company Adobe, famous for Photoshop. Earlier this year it bought Magento Commerce, a digital commerce platform for £1.25 billion to bootstrap its way into the retail technology market.

Other players in this area include BigCommerce and dunnhumby. Each is trying to carve out a niche to improve customer interactivity using technology. Some are experimenting with VR, although practical use of this will be a few years in the future, when headsets become cheap enough for wide use.

The sector is likely to experience disruption in the near future, with some companies adopting new technology, and prospering and others finding it hard to compete.


Julian Jackson is Wandsworth Chamber’s blogger, whose interests encompass technology, cryptocurrencies and blockchain, the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here: