I've read this article again a week later and it's not hard to find the future of retail technology exciting. I've been working in (what we now call) Digital Retail for 35 years and 1 week (exactly) and it's been a compelling experience of innovation and challenge.
Fundamentally retail is a sector we can all understand - we are all consumers - and we feel able to relate to the changes we see. It's also a sector when the best companies are clearly those that demonstrate how attuned they are to the market and the demands of the customers. The shifts from high street to mall to online were responses to changing customer habits not ideas dreamt up in company HQs. As my colleague Joel Bines points out in The Metail Economy this is becoming even more pronounced - "There’s never been another time in history when consumers have had more power. ........ Just listen to your customer".
That's why there was something in the article that made me think "I'm not so sure".
Tech crystal ball gazing is entertaining and risky, and I wonder how many of these - or other similarly bold - ideas are really headed our way in 2022. Because I think it's hard to see which are really solving a pressing customer need. They are all great solutions and I don't doubt that there are many consumers who will say they like them or that we might see them mature and re-appear at some point, but which really are going to make it in the next 12 months? A year when inflationary pressures look like they will be the number one issue for customers. That said, I do think checkout-less stores may be the exception as they address the most frequently cited pain point in the whole shopping experience.
And if you can't see where the demand is coming from, it's even harder to see how a retail CIO fits these into this year's plan. Retail tech is a constant challenge of meeting the ever-rising bar of customer expectations against a backdrop of capex and opex pressure, un-availability of digitally skilled talent, and legacy architectures. Getting new ideas out of the innovation hubs and onto the short-term roadmap is going to be a challenge.
Right now, most of the retailers I work with are still grappling with more basic difficulties - often inherited from short-term expedient decisions made by previous management. They don't have the modern and flexible systems that can underpin the delivery of the shiny new tech envisioned above.
For them, priorities are overspending, late running, functionally incomplete projects; users complaining they can’t get the data they need; broken IT architectures; failing/expensive IT suppliers; and a general fear that they cannot achieve their growth objectives building on the current IT tools and legacy technology.
Finding a way to realise value from current technology, achieve digital change without breaking the bank or the business' capacity, and constantly delivering to customer expectations is this year's tech trend.