The retail sector must embrace technology or die, according to industry experts at a BusinessCloudand Pro-Manchester joint event this week.
Attendees at ‘How tech is changing the retail sector’ at Seventy7 studios, in Manchester, heard how traditional high street chains are being transformed in the digital age.
Online shopping has taken over from bricks and mortar retail, but tech is driving change and raising the bar in terms of what customers expect.
Robert Perkins is chief operating officer of Hotter Shoes, which was founded in 1959, and has experienced significant change in its lifetime.
He said: “[Retail] changes all the time, I would say. Hotter started as a traditional business but has to be very dynamic and agile.
“Technology is the only thing that is going to enable us to survive. It’s absolutely central to what we do, and our investment is growing every year.
“There is no option to be in the modern world. If any business thinks they can be prehistoric and behave as it did 20 years ago, they’re not going to survive in this world.
“Our consumer market is 50-plus, but lots and lots of our consumers are tech-savvy. They’re using iPads, they’re using Twitter, they’re using all of these things.
“You’d be quite wrong to assume otherwise, and you have to be prepared to operate on the customer’s terms.”
The event took place at digital, creative and photographic agency Seventy7’s base at the Old School House in Ardwick, Manchester.
Panel members discussed how companies are investing huge sums of money into customers’ buying habits and better analytics.
Michael Lawes of Bizzleit said: “It’s about time retailers embraced this consumer trend and moved to tech.
His firm recently ran a pilot scheme at for Spar, and the Spar Go service is now scheduled to be rolled out to other stores in the UK.
John Whalley, executive creative director of Seventy7, said: “Pre-internet days, businesses used to promote themselves with things like quality, service and value.
“Things you take for granted and things a consumer would expect. Now, this is replaced by things like are next-day delivery, automatic form-filling, and videos of products.”
He added that today, city centres are providing things you can’t get on the internet – and brands must adapt as consumer habits evolve.
Whalley added: “If you look at where I live, which is basically two high streets and a crossroads, there’s probably a choice of 24 hairdressers, 10 cocktail bars, 15 restaurants, seven coffee shops, and there’s maybe one butcher left.
“You look at that situation as say Tesco moved in, e-commerce took off, okay it’s kind of sad, but then it’s progress. It’s evolution.
“People have got to get hold of that and ask what they’re going to do with the spaces – how are they going to behave?
“How long is it until someone like Costa wakes up and realises they can bring a brand in. Or Toni & Guy, who could partner with a fashion brand. Let’s give the customer the experience.”
Also speaking at the BusinessCloud and Pro-Manchester event were Al Mackin, CEO and co-founder of Formisimo, Elizabeth Clark, CEO and co-founder of Dream Agility, Adam Ward of Airtime Rewards, and Kevin Jones, founder of Shopblocks.