RTIH asks major players in the retail technology space for their thoughts on the sector, and throws in a random question to keep them on their toes. This time around, our five questions go to Fabrice Haiat, CEO at UK-based digital workplace specialist YOOBIC.
RTIH: Looking at the hottest retail technologies right now, check-out free stores, rapid delivery services, the metaverse and NFTs, automation and robotics, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, which ones stand out to you, and for what reason?
FH: In the current crisis, which involves so many areas of business, retailers and brands need to try and act smart in their operations and look for strong return on investment from any tech they deploy.
I think smart retail is probably the most promising innovation because it leverages retail automation to orchestrate retail operations more efficiently. Retailers need to look for efficiencies in their operations and supply chain in order to reduce costs whilst remaining focused on serving customers.
There are now many interesting technologies in this field, including smart labels, robotics, real time inventory management, image recognition to detect out of stocks or planogram compliance, predictive sales, and so on.
But what is even more interesting is the way some of these technologies can be integrated for greater returns. Smart labels can monitor the status of stock on the shelf at all times and provide alerts to the supply chain and store teams to replenish or change layouts.
As near perfect as possible availability at the point of sale will be key for brands that are competing for consumers whose shopping behaviours have changed so much since the pandemic.
Robotics is also complementary to the goal of having full shelves and solves the twin problems of staff wage inflation and the difficulties of recruiting enough staff to cover all tasks.
RTIH: Which retail technology trend is overrated in your opinion?
FH: In times of uncertainty, when business and investors are naturally looking to protect profitability, the world throws out a whole bunch of new ideas, some of which turn into trends.
However, just because people are talking about some of these trends, does not necessarily mean they are ready or in some cases even real.
The metaverse has not yet given us a strong business case yet, and even Meta itself will say it is not yet delivered even though other companies say it is here already.
The result so far of that hype is that while hundreds of companies have jumped onboard to build solutions, the reality is that parent company Meta has just announced that it is laying off 13% of its staff worldwide.
This is an inevitable consequence for any company that has to change direction and embark on a journey that will take time to complete.
Cryptocurrencies, possibly by their nature as a new form of currency, have been very volatile of late, making the market difficult to rely on in the short-term, in terms of the security of investment as well as the perceived value of related technologies, the blockchain. The hype is real, the evidence of value less so.
That said, these are all very interesting trends but they will take time to emerge as workable solutions and that require long-term vision.
RTIH: What are the top five retail tech Twitter/LinkedIn accounts you can’t do without, and why?
FH: Our YOOBIC clients and partners are always a great source of insight, and I would recommend checking out the following as I find they always provide excellent industry intelligence:
Frédéric Court – the CEO of venture capital firm Felix Capital. He’s a great and inspirational leader with a long-term vision for retail transformation and trends honed by more than 20 years working in the tech industry.
Julien Codorniou – a YOOBIC board member and the former VP of Workplace at Meta.
Ron Thurston is a great retail influencer who, having started his career on the store floor, really advocates for the crucial role frontline workers play in creating an exceptional retail experience.
Meghan Roach – the CEO of Roots, the outdoor, lifestyle brand, who is a hugely successful female retail leader.
Alexei Agratchev – the co-founder and CEO at RetailNext.
RTIH: If you could have a dinner party with any five retail pioneers, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
FH: Hubert Joly – the French former CEO of Best Buy. He is truly a visionary, who completely reinvented the retail business model putting employee enablement at the core of everything.
Jeff Bezos, Founder, Executive Chairman, and former President and CEO of Amazon, who would bring the gift of long-term vision to the table.
Sarah Blakely – the founder of apparel brand Spanx, for her leadership and courage.
Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group for his energy, vision, and sense of fun – something that is equally important in business as it is at the dinner table.
Last, but not least, Jacques-Antoine Granjon, who is the CEO of Veepee – the e-commerce flash-sale platform, to disrupt the event with his relentless innovation and forward thinking.
RTIH: As the cost-of-living crisis looms large, will it be a happy or blue Christmas for retailers this year?
FH: In a cost-of-living crisis, any business with high levels of discretionary stock may well be in trouble over Christmas as consumers face higher bills for essential purchases – energy and food.
And we have already seen a downturn in sales of furniture and big ticket electronic items such as TVs.
As with all crises, this one is amplifying strengths and weaknesses of existing retailers and will create both winners and losers. The businesses that show the greatest resilience and business agility will be the ones that will thrive.
The rest will have to demonstrate a capacity to be agile, adapt quickly to demand and win the war for scarce talents while battling churn.