Over the past decade, the UK has undergone a digital evolution. Technology has accelerated at an unprecedented rate in recent years, and one sector that has not gone untouched in this digital shift is retail. But to what extent is that transformation being led by retailers and how much is driven by consumers?
To understand this, we recently spoke with 2,145 consumers and 647 business leaders as part of our new Transforming Britain Report. Two key themes emerged.
The technology advocates
Consumers want and expect more in terms of digital retail, but businesses are failing to meet those desires.
Over three quarters of consumers say life in the UK has changed over the last five years and expect it to change even more in the future. In fact, 45 percent feel technology can improve the convenience and ease at which they access products and services, and half are excited about the way technology is changing life in the UK.
The findings suggest a desire for more futuristic and technology driven way of life, especially when it comes to retail. A third (37 percent) who would be happy to be served by a robot in a supermarket, while a similar number (34 percent) would like an automated machine to deliver their goods.
The study also found consumers are ready and waiting for more experiential shopping experiences, fuelled by new technology. Almost half say Augmented Reality (AR) will positively impact retail (46 percent) while a fifth (22 percent) say the same of Virtual Reality (VR).
Where we are seeing a disconnect in the UK is with the retailers, who consumers expect to provide these services and experiences. Over half (57 percent) of business leaders say they have no plans to implement VR in the next twelve months; almost half (49 percent) have no plans for Artificial Intelligence (AI) either. This highlights a notable divide between the fact that consumers say they want more innovative experiences with technologies such as AI and VR, but that retailers are not adhering to those demands. This poses the question: just how much are retailers truly listening to their customers?
In some instances we are seeing more innovations in the industry. Only in January this year did Amazon announce the opening of its Amazon Go store – the first shop to eradicate all tilling and allow shoppers to scan and pay for items via their smartphone app.
An industry transformed
The retail industry is one which we expect jobs to be affected – and soon.
Both consumer and business leader attitudes towards jobs in the sector are united and enlightening, especially with the likes of Amazon Go coming into fruition. When asked which jobs most likely won’t exist in their current form a decade from now, two of the top three were shelf-stacker and shop assistant, coming only after bank teller.
This poses challenges for retailers, who are going to need to plan how they adapt their workforce in light of this, but retailers should also see the opportunities it brings for employees too.
It can enable more interesting, higher skilled and pleasurable aspects of their jobs, removing the need to carry out mundane and monotonous tasks, and allow them to do their jobs more effectively and rapidly.
For instance, if tasks such as replacing products or scanning items through tills become more automated, shop assistant’s time will be freed up. They can focus on the customer and making their time in stores as rich as possible being true advisors in-store, providing shoppers with the face time which they still want and appreciate. The challenge is to aid employees to continue on that journey, and enable them to add value not only because technology has given them more time in which to assist customers, but because it is being used to create a more personal and meaningful experience as well.
But it’s not enough to just say that, we need to enable this change in a positive way. The pace of change is increasing. And consumers themselves want these new services and experiences, but, with that comes a responsibility to make sure the employees are equipped and able to deliver them.
With every evolution, we as businesses need to ensure employees are equipped for change. But who is really responsible? According to the consumers we surveyed, the onus of reskilling displaced employees lies with the technology companies, not retailers.
Here at Fujitsu, we believe in taking an approach of co-creation.
Retailers and technology providers need to work together to create a workforce that is ready and equipped for new technological changes.
Employees need to be able to work with the technology provided, rather than view it as battling against them. By training employees on new skills to understand customer data, for example, they can harness and use data on the shop floor to provide customers with a more engaging and personalised experience resulting in customer receiving a much better experience even if they have never meet the colleague in store before.
Innovation that works for all
We are a nation that is expecting increasingly new and innovative services from our providers, and retail is no exception to the rule – if anything, it is the rule.
For retailers, this means investing in new and innovative ways for consumers to shop and experience their products as services with. From simple things such as ensuring systems are harmoniously aligned so consumers can shop from one channel to another seamlessly, to the other end of the spectrum by using new interfaces such as AR, VR and voice technology to provide a new layer to the shopping experience that customers are now ready for.
Retailers need to harness the right technologies so that they can provide the experiences their customers are demanding, and evolve with them in this evolution Britain is undergoing and prepare themselves for a digital and prosperous future.
To find out more information on how technology is transforming the UK, check out our ‘Tech in a Transforming Britain’ report.
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