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Future Retail Contest: Using tech to tackle retail’s biggest problems

IC Tomorrow’s Future Retail Contest aims to help the retail industry tackle some of its business issues by leveraging retail-focused startups

Innovate UK has announced the winners of its IC Tomorrow Future Retail Contest designed to use technology startups to grow and improve the retail sector.

Out of a pool of 15 potential startups, five were awarded funding of up to £35,000 each to pursue their technology propositions alongside a retail partner.

Innovate UK, the UK’s agency for innovation, frequently runs startup competitions under its IC Tomorrow programme to encourage using technology as an enabler to problem solving, and ensures startups can work with appropriate industry members to advance the UK economy.

As part of the IC Tomorrow Future Retail Contest, winning startups will retain 100% of their intellectual property (IP) and will gain funding to develop products ready to trial in 2017.

One winner was picked for each competition category, which included new ways to fight food waste, future fitting rooms, seamless shopping, enhancing the in-store experience and digitally enhancing street and covered markets.

Each of the competition categories was designed to address a particular issue currently facing the retail industry, and winners will partner with industry to build their proposed systems.

Matt Sansam, IC Tomorrow programme lead and lead technologist in digital economy at Innovate UK, said: “Consumers increasingly want more from their shopping experience and digital systems are a key way for the industry to give consumers what they want.

“Each of the five winners demonstrates how innovative technologies can be used to deliver positive interactions between the consumer and the retail industry.”

More than 100 applications were whittled down to 15 competing teams that went head-to-head for their share of a total £175,000. The five categories and winning teams are outlined below.

Pioneering ways to fight food waste

Startups in the fighting food waste category were challenged to use technology to reduce the huge amount of food wastage that occurs in the UK, which adds up to seven million tonnes of food and drink waste annually.

The winning team, Thaw Technology, have been given the opportunity to partner with Tesco and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) to develop an application.

The application is designed to inform users when food they have purchased will go out of date, and display the cumulative cost of the food they have thrown away.

Future of fitting

The future of fitting category challenged startups to use technology to make trying on clothes, shoes or other personal goods an easy experience to reduce the number of garments returned, focusing on a virtual fitting room experience.

Many young consumers expect a social-media driven experience when trying on clothes, and consumers returning unwanted goods costs retailers large amounts of money.

Winning team Cephalometrics partnered with Digital Anthropology Lab, the London College of Fashion and London University of the Arts. It will be developing a type of eyewear design that will make it easier for people to find and fit made-to-measure spectacles.

Seamless shopping

For the seamless shopping category, startups were challenged to implement a technology system to help retailers address the shift towards omni-channel.

As the retail sector moves more towards omni-channel, customers are expecting a consistent experience when using any of a retailer’s channels, including seamless loyalty and a sense that a brand knows each customers individually.

The winning team, Action Artificial Intelligence, will partner with Unilever to develop an artificially intelligent system that will integrate with a retailer’s messaging platforms to ensure faster delivery of goods and products.

Enhancing in-store experiences

To tackle the problem of peak-time queueing in retail establishments, such as banks, startups in this category were asked to use technology to integrate online and offline for a better in-branch experience.

As the number of financial technology (fintech) startups offering digital banking systems grows, customers are becoming more fickle and retail banks are increasingly having to offer a better service to retail customers.

Winning startup Rewarding Visits Ltd will work with Barclays to develop an appointments system to allow customers to pre-book their face-to-face bank branch visit online.

Digital support for street and covered markets

For the digital support for markets category, startups were challenged to use technology to prevent the decline in the number of people visiting traditional outdoors or covered markets.

Winning startup Proxama partnered with Greater London Authority to develop a mobile application that uses beacon technology to help consumers locate markets, as well as allow market retailers to push real-time promotions to consumers visiting the market.

Read more about retail technology

  • Supermarket retailer Sainsbury’s creates 150 digital jobs in Manchester as part of its innovation drive.
  • Retailer John Lewis launches the 2016 round of Jlab, a programme designed to bring innovation and disruption to the retail industry with technology startups.

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