How is tech changing the retail sector?

Why ask someone who specialises in branding?

When I was first invited to feature on a panel at a Business Cloud event looking at how technology is changing the retail sector, my initial reaction was ‘really, i’m not that technical?’.

Other members of the panel are experts in the delivery of specialist technologies, esteemed individuals applying a science, whilst I spend my time in the emotional and sometimes mysterious space that is ‘brand’.

Wait a minute though.

Everything we do to build, activate, communicate or revitalise a brand is either empowered by technology, or at least enhanced by it. Brand needs technology in order to succeed, so we should talk.

Starting with questions that led to the event.


How is technology transforming your business?

To really answer this question we must first understand exactly what the term ‘brand’ really means.

It’s no longer a logo, a product or a sign over a door.

Brand is now a combination of expectation, conversation, experience and entertainment. Technology is the vehicle for its activation and delivery.

This means that rather than the latest technology defining the brand, we must use the latest technology to deliver the brand to people – however, whenever and wherever they want it.

In this respect technology is constantly changing how we construct, deliver and grow a brand. It’s something we must factor into our thinking from the outset.


What does the future hold for technology in the retail sector?

With respect to the developers of amazing technologies, wherever possible these technologies should become invisible. In other words, they should be the flow of blood and oxygen that keep the brand at the front of the race, not the things used to promote the brand itself.

As a consumer, I am offered one-hour delivery, I am offered things I want or need, I am offered automatic form filling, given a virtually real experience.

All of these things are truly fabulous. But they’re functional, not emotional, they’re delivery not engagement, they’re not the primary reason I’ll decide on one brand over another.

Technology has become the lifeblood of retail, and one of the main reasons we go back to a brand again and again – but it’s still the brand that we fall in love with first.


What most excites you about upcoming tech in the retail arena?

The shift to shopping online is impacting far more than simply the use of our time. It is reshaping our high streets and challenging our traditional use of physical spaces.

Rather than being simply a shopping doorway, the future for bricks and mortar stores must be one of providing experiences and services that consumers can’t get on their mobiles and tablets.

This means becoming showrooms, collection points, and events spaces, in other words extensions of the online experience rather than vice versa.

What this tells us is that to create real impact new technologies must look to link the digital with the physical.

Of course delivery can get even faster, user experience can improve massively, and the check out process can be automated. But these things are like blinking and breathing – faster, better, easier are things we consumers take for granted.

New technologies must look to bring excitement as well as functionality, entertainment as well as delivery. New technologies must look to the physical as well as the digital.

That’s when things will get really exciting.

Amazon seem to think so too. Built for digital, this enormous business is now investing heavily in the physical. The launch of their ‘try at home before you buy’ service Prime Wardrobe positions Amazon as a major player in fashion. Buying Whole Food Markets for almost £11b also shows that Amazon is serious about becoming a traditional grocer.

We’re no longer looking to high street retail or online retail. We’re simply looking to RETAIL.


John Whalley – Head of HT&E


If you require help with your brand design and brand strategy, or would like valuable insight into your market sector and consumer behavior, we’d love to talk to you.