Rolandino - Fotolia

Top 10 retail IT stories in 2016

Computer Weekly looks over how the shifting consumer landscape has changed the retail industry during 2016, with increased collaboration, growing consumer power, and mergers and acquisitions

The retail space has been in a state of flux over the last decade, with some retailers succeeding in catering to digital customers whilst others still struggle to connect their online and offline offerings.

This year has been focused on where retailers will have to go next in order to attract and retain customers, with an emphasis on retailer collaboration to cater to the fickle millennial customer.

While some traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers have shifted their priorities to focus on digital, online retailers have moved towards a physical space to appeal to as many customers as possible, furthering the blending of online and offline retail.

1. NRF 2016: Shopping centres will become “platforms for experiences”, says Westfield co-CEO

The year began with the National Retail Federation’s “Big Show”, where the co-CEO of Westfield claimed shopping centres would begin to shift towards being “platforms for experiences” as the shopping experience becomes more focussed on “showrooming”.

Westfield Corp’s co-CEO Steven Lowy said shopping centres still attract customers looking for the physical experience that comes with shopping, but retailers will need to work together to use this as an opportunity to drive customers into shops.

Similarly, the CEO of Amex, Kenneth Chenault, stated that businesses should be ready to rethink their strategy to adapt to industry changes in light of digital and customer behaviour.

2. Consumer empowerment no fad, says M&S

The last few years have seen the return of the “consumer is king” attitude, as customers are empowered by access to technology, giving them increased choice and a platform by which to challenge retailers.

In 2016, Marks & Spencer CMO Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne warned that too many retailers were still treating this new pattern as a trend or a fad rather than a serious shift in the market.

Instead, Bousquet-Chavanne said retailers should be properly utilising technology to provide customers with a personalised experience to win them over.

3. Personalisation could help customers forgive bad brand experiences

Personalisation has been a huge buzzword for the retail sector in the last few years, with retailers focusing on data to give customers more individual experiences. 

In January 2016, research found 40% of customers are willing to forgive mistakes made by brands if they feel the brand knows them personally.

The research also found more than half of customers like to be offered a personalised experience from a retailer.

4. Home Retail Group sells Homebase to focus on digital Argos

2016 saw some shakeups with big players in the industry, as the Home Retail Group sold its DIY arm Homebase in order to focus more on the digital offering of its homeware division, Argos.

The Group’s chief executive John Walden claimed selling off Homebase would give the firm an opportunity to better focus on transforming and developing the Argos brand.

This isn’t the only bold move to be made in the space, with Salesforce buying Demandware later in the year in order to gear up for better e-commerce services in the years to come.

5. Lacking the digital skills to shop online costs consumers £744 a year

Online shopping is increasingly becoming part of everyday life, but there are still a number of people in the UK without access to the internet or the know-how to use an internet-connected device.

Research found that those without the skills to shop online might be losing up to £744 a year as they cannot take advantages of online deals, or properly shop around for the best option.

This proves digital skills are becoming increasingly important in all aspects of life – even shopping.

6. Retailers are in the “dial up” stage of omni-channel

Omni-channel has become a phrase of ever-increasing importance over the last few years, as customers have started interacting with brands through various channels and expecting a unified experience through each one.

A Panel at the 2016 Retail Business Technology Expo likened the current omni-channel movement to the dial-up stage of internet connectivity.

The panel claimed that although there are the beginnings of an omni-channel experience, some retailers are still struggling with the more complex aspects of offering an omni-channel experience, such as personalisation, seamless payments and single customer journeys.

7. [email protected]: From bricks to clicks – how technology has changed the shopping experience

Computer Weekly celebrated its 50th year in 2016, and to celebrate, the team looked over 50 years of technology innovation in various industry sectors.

In the retail space, the last 50 years has had a significant impact on the shopping experience, from the birth of the highstreet in the 1960s to the increase in online shopping in the current day.

Although the retail landscape has shifted, it is still evident that physical shops are just as important as they once were, but customers are choosing to use them differently to 50 years ago.

8. UK e-commerce spend rose by 8.4% year-on-year in April 2016

In April 2016, the amount UK consumers spent online increased by 8.4% year-on-year, according to research by Visa.

This was the largest increase in online sales seen since December 2014.

This popularity in online shopping was not mirrored in stores, as face-to-face transactions only increased by 0.2% in the same period.

9. A quarter of UK consumers refuse to shop cash-only

Continuing to follow the digital retail trend, a quarter of consumers claimed they avoid stores where they cannot pay by card or contactless.

Research by payments firm Worldpay also found that a third of shoppers will only use cash if completely necessary.

The trend could cause a problem for many smaller or pop-up businesses who may not have the capability to allow customers to pay by card.

10. Around half of customers expect virtual reality to play a part in retail’s future

As the year came to a close, many retailers and consumers alike began future-gazing.

Research by Salesforce found that many consumers expect virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) will play a big part in retail experience in the near future.

More than half of consumers believe VR will be provided by companies to enhance their shopping experience by 2020, and 45% think retailers will start to use AI to recommend products to customers based on their personal preferences. 

Read more on IT for retail and logistics