The Thousand-Year Retail Decade

Posted by Mike Butler on October 16, 2018

Attendees at the second annual ‘Retail Tonight’ event were treated to a thrilling thesis from Jason Bradbury: that the retail sector is about to see its most accelerated and transformative ten years ever.

A balmy evening in mid-September (the last of this wonderful summer, as it turned out) saw the movers and shakers of the retail world convene at Quaglino’s in London for ‘Retail Tonight 2018’.  Amid the high-level networking and the mouth-watering food, a stirring talk by Jason Bradbury (long-time presenter of ‘The Gadget Show’ and an irrepressible cultural commentator with technology and retail as his Mastermind-specialist subjects) treated the assembled to a genuinely thought-provoking vision of where retail may take us in the decade ahead.

Hyper-Acceleration is the new normal

Jason’s launching point (and anyone who has ever seen him speak will know that ‘launch’ is exactly the right word – he dives straight in and just keeps getting faster and more energetic) was Moore’s Law, the thought beloved of the IT community that IT processing power doubles roughly every 18months.  Jason’s spin is that the world of IT (and by implication the various sectors it serves) has finallybaked-in its own expectation of this doubling of speed, power and capability.  We can start to embrace projects that only a few years ago we’d have written off as science-fiction, knowing that the roadmap is well and truly in place to deliver on our vision.

He focused on five broad areas:  V.R., A.I., Personalised Production, Robotics and Wearable technology, which in the way they overlap and re-inforce one another will drive a paradigm shift in how we think about things – and not just in the retail sector.

Two quotes from Jason around the Artificial Intelligence space:

“The future is ‘no screens’ rather than ‘new screens’.”

“Voice is the new black.”

As Big Data gets unimaginably big it will have the power to serve previously unthought of requests and actions, all controlled by voice rather than touch or screen-based application.

Augmented Reality will finally hit its mass-market tipping-point in the next few years.  The Magic Leap has very recently launched in a developer-friendly consumer package while the price for the entry-level OculusVR headset has plummeted. Watch this space.

Hyper-personalisation will be another leading retail trend with people moving away from the mass-produced to actively seek out that which is personalised and (to whatever degree) unique.  The resurgence of vinyl in an age of digital MP3 abundance is a telling trend here.  Jason shared a video with the Retail Tonight assembled of him having his glasses 3D-Printed for him by an innovative optician, to his exact specifications and in front of his eyes.

Retail also needs to rethink its relationship to space.  Jason gave some example of pop-ups and reconfigurable spaces (such as the Boxpark initiatives in Shoreditch and Croydon where the same space can be ‘remixed’ in the course of the same day to serve very different purposes).  Such innovations as the connected carwill open up enormous new opportunities for consumer-led sectors such as retail and banking.  Retail will get more canny about tapping into previously unused lakes of “surplus” personal time.

Building on that, the near-future will see retail turning some assumptions on their head.  We’ve all heard the phrase “brining the store to you” in relation to ominchannel shopping and extended aisle choice, but what if that could happen literally and a mobile shop actually drive to your location? It’s happening as we speak (albeit in the Far East) with Wheely’s Moby Mart, a “self-driving supermarket”, on the go 24 hours a day.

These are just some of the places where retail can go now that we’re “beyond the knee of the curve” in the Moore’s Law / exponential growth paradigm.  But of course, it’s going to take us places that Jason and others haven’t dreamt of yet.

For those of you interested in a little bit more detail we’ve put together a short, digestible event summary which you can download.

Retail Tonight, Tomorrow, and on…

Retail Tonight 2018 was a great success.  No fewer than twenty technology companies partnered, most of whom also hosted tables for the senior retailers in attendance.  Quaglino’s did us proud, as did the other guest speaker for the evening, stand-up comic Ed Gamble.  I’d like to take this opportunity to say again a heartfelt thanks to all the retailers, technology suppliers, and staff from McDonald Butler Associates and Retail in Detail who made the evening so enjoyable and valuable.  I was humbled to be compere for the evening and I suspect we may call on the services of Jason Bradbury again, not least because a few of us were disappointed that he didn’t bring his “hoverboard”.  Next time, Jason… 

In the meantime, if you’re interested in Retail Tomorrow 2019, Retail Tonight 2019, or indeed NRF 2019, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

Just a reminder you can read the event summary here