Retail Alchemy in the Digital Age

If you want to know what’s going in a sector, go and hear one of the top management consultancies deliver a talk.  I did this morning, when I attended a seminar by Deloitte on the future of retailing. 

One of the guest speakers was New Channels programme manager at Marks and Spencer – Alice Rackley.  Leading a forty strong team inside the business (which was only six strong six months ago), her job  is to integrate the on-line with the off-line.  I have to say I didn’t realise M&S were doing quite so much.  They aim to be the number one multi-channel retailer in the world, that’s aiming high.

Typical examples of things they are doing include equipping assistants with i-pads selling extended ranges, installing screens in store which allows customers to see user generated content reviews of the products they sell, augmented reality mirrors in their new make-up concession.  The really smart thing I thought they were doing was probably the simplest, putting wi-fi networks in all their stores so that people can browse their mobile shopping sites at good speeds on their own devices.

Deloitte had a couple of speakers up who threw some good stats and trends up.  Here’s a few in no particular order: -

  • Amazon are expected to overtake John Lewis and M&S to become the largest variety retailer by 2014.
  • Apple are expected to have sold 80M i-Pads by the end of 2012.
  • 48% of shoppers own a smartphone, 58% of those people use them for store related shopping (this works out to 27% of all smartphone owners if you do the math).
  • Marks and Spencer transacted 6% of all on-line sales on i-Pads in Jan 2012, by June it was 8%.
  • 1 in 5 retail purchases will be via Smartphone by 2014.
  • Big theme is “digital ubiquity” – that is digital everywhere.
  • New innovation coming to market is “audio watermarking” whereby an embedded watermark is put into a TV ad which then triggers an experience on your i-Pad if your multi-screening.
  • It took Apple this long per device to sell 67M units – Macs -24 years, i-Pods – 5 years, i-Phones – 3 years, i-Pads – 2 years.
  • Speed of Response is becoming key.  An example was given on retailer “New Look” who reacted to a new Kate Middleton outfit with an entire digital response within 24 hours of “get the look.”
  • Prediction of “death of the till” as store assistants use hand-held devices to optimise conversion.
  • Example given on a retailer who has equipped their staff with i-Pads to take photo’s of people outside dressing rooms, then recommend other clothes/complementary purchases.
  • Future for retailers will also be about analytics and making “fact-based” decisions amongst the big data that exists.

What struck me was just how much disruption there continues to be in the sector and it wrestles with it’s multi-channel strategy.  Some are doing it well, others not.   What’s clear is that the traditional landscape is changing at a supersonic speeed, expect more casualties from those that fail to react.

It’s all about ME….

I love to play with words.  One of my most recent creations which I used at the How-Do Brand on Demand event on Wednesday was “ME-conomics”. 

I used the word as a descriptor for the changing nature of mobile business, personalisation of goods, growth of personal branding and how marketeers need to pay attention to these trends in their marketing mix in order to monetise them (economics bit).

There was widespread agreement that the world is moving pretty quickly at the minute.  Mobile applications are motoring along at a terrific pace.  Innovation is rife.  Here’s a great factoid – 60% of Apple’s 2010 sales came from products that did not exist three years ago.  Scary!


Retailers in the states are now providing free wi-fi in store as a way of being able to geo-locate their customers, find out more about them and send hyper-local advertising to them, fire real-time coupons at their customers and track their physical paths through the store.  Interesting stuff, totally driven by the technology.  Mobile search gives local retailers a real chance for cut-through, as long as they get their proposition right.


It’s evident that those businesses that get their plans shifted to accomodate the mobile revolution will be big winners in the game.  Mobile enabled websites, mobile enabled e-commerce, mobile enabled search.  I talked about the world shaking down to the big convenience platforms, Amazon, i-Tunes, Facebook, eBay – as they offer the ultimate in convenience to the attention poor individual on the move.

What’s clear, is that ME-conomics is a big trend.  There are other elements to it, I’m saving those for a keynote I’m doing in a couple of months in Berlin.  More to come.