Tag Archives: tech

Carefully consider the customer in this new age of retail

As consumers were forced online, bringing back a sensory experience through a carefully considered customer journey, is where independent retail is amongst the best says Daniel Todaro from Gekko.

It’s been a tough few months for all retailers but we’re back and now more than ever the customer experience is the tool many retailers must be reaching for to recapture shoppers and remind them what they have missed.

Based on findings from the CBI, retail sales have risen above seasonal norms for the first time this year. The reopening of non-essential stores in England and Wales brought relief to the sector. April’s retail sales volumes were viewed as “good” for not only the first time this year but also since June 2018, according to the CBI’s latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey.

After reopening on the 12th April, the early signs suggest that shoppers were particularly eager to visit fashion retailers, and on the day, spending on clothes was double the typical pre-pandemic level. Furthermore, the figures are stronger than when stores reopened after the first lockdown in 2020. The number of people shopping online in the past month fell for the second time in a row, and while it is still strong, the rate is half what it was at the height of the pandemic. The data points to a growing sense that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and people are becoming more comfortable with venturing out to stores.

Retail will undoubtedly regain its mojo over the coming months and if as hoped we are out of complete restrictions this summer, it should rebound and take full opportunity as the burden of these rules no longer apply. It’s going to be different and it will no doubt continue to evolve but retail as one of the most dynamic industries, has always done this. It evolves to meet the expectations of generations, trends and attitudes. Brands and retailers must therefore work to create more experiences spread across a wider space to offer consumers an immersive experience that makes a customer buy from your store and continues to do so, wanting to visit again based on the experience received.

Since reopening we have already seen a 12% shift from online to the high street in the first two weeks. Whilst the growth will have added to the overall online retail space, consumers are increasingly bored of online shopping just as they are Zoom calls. For the entire nation, lockdowns forced us to shop online whether we liked to or not. If we wanted that thing for that purpose, customers had to go online and research, buy, deliver or collect and in many cases return it because it wasn’t right. Whilst this may have felt convenient for some, this meant that for many the sensory experience was immediately banished to a 2D experience and brown boxes dumped on our doorstep.

Human nature is to be stimulated through a sensory experience and even for those with no real passion for shopping, I suspect they have missed some of the pleasures that physical retail offers. In specific categories, this is enhanced more than others such as considered purchases in the MDA and CE categories. Sustainability is another factor many will be considering now that they have a choice. Our increased carbon footprint created by ordering items that have travelled several hundred miles will once again prick the consciousness of all of us as we look to increase our sustainability initiatives, not increase them with unnecessary additional miles and packaging.

We are gradually coming out of lockdown and consumers continue to be excited about it. Indeed over 85% of consumers from our latest retail survey results claimed that they have already taken advantage of physical shops being open to make purchases. They are emerging with a determined mind-set, using their newfound online skills to narrow down their options before heading to the store to browse and make the final purchase.

The retail environment is changing and has been particularly fluid over the past year. This data is critical to understanding the new trends that have emerged and forming (or re-forming) brand strategies. Insight from Kantar, online shopping fell in April for what was the second time in a row, and Springboard footfall data showed an increase of 88% week on week for the period that non-essential retail reopened after the 12th. All of this points to the fact that there are more shoppers out there than there have been for 14 months, so there is a chance here to connect with them while confidence is high and a (hopefully) high-spirited summer begins.

The online share of retail sales is decreasing, although the benchmark remains above the pre-pandemic figure, settling at about 36% in April vs 23% in 2020. This of course indicates the acceleration of a trend that has been growing for a while, but it does mostly remain product specific, and nothing will ever really replace the experiences that in store shopping can offer. The store should now become more of an experience hub as well as a purchase point. In-store marketing continues to have the power to not only increase actual sales, but also other key factors such as brand loyalty and even helping to drive social media interactions.

When it comes to consumer electronics and large appliances in particular, many consumers will always prefer to touch a product and hear about its benefits first hand rather than reading a specification sheet online. Hearing their input, from questions to reasons for purchase, can then be fed back directly to a brand, enabling them to react and stay ahead of the competition.

In this new age of retail, the smartest businesses will be the ones that can leverage the opportunity to reach consumers at every level relevant to them, and that is where effective brand experience and a carefully curated customer journey can step in to help exceed your customers’ expectations.

To read the full article please visit ERT Magazine.

The photo that accompanies this article is by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

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A hybrid approach: Five retail innovations the pandemic has speeded up

Every business has been forced to change in the past year, it doesn’t matter the industry you are in. Retail is no different, but unlike others, it has always been a dynamic industry at the forefront of responding to consumer trends and the manner in which people want to consume things. Retailers have always understood they are at the vanguard of that change. This past year has truly focused the mind on this and the need for innovation like never before.

It’s not just about entirely new initiatives. Many trends that were already taking place have had their roll out compressed from years to months. Here are five innovations that the pandemic has speeded up that can offer a pathway to sustained growth to those who take advantage.

1. Click and collect

There is renewed and growing enthusiasm for click and collect. In part that’s linked to the general increase in online shopping but it’s also because of the convenience and importantly the hygienic, social distancing aspects. A pandemic trend that is set to stay, it is now an embedded part of many consumer journeys, especially in grocery shopping, but also increasingly in all non-essential retail. Our own research has shown that over 35% of people want to see this trend continue even after the pandemic. Click and collect certainly appeals to more sustainability-focused customers. These shoppers want to shop online but also have a focus on sustainability with concerns about the environmental impact of the deliveries in terms of the distance travelled and packaging. Retailers should think about how to maximise the opportunity to boost profitability. An obvious example being upselling products in a collection environment.

2. Using Augmented Reality to assist big ticket purchases

As we can see from the figures post-lockdown, physical retail has an enduring appeal with huge pent up demand being realised. However with more consumers having been forced to buy higher ticket items online, smart brands are looking at new technology to fuse the offline and online world and assist sales. Ikea is a brand that has always focused on innovation and disrupting the traditional retail experience. They made a smart play last year, acquiring AR imaging startup Geomagical Labs. The intention was to drive shoppers to purchase more big-ticket items without always needing to visit a store. Its technology allows a user to quickly scan a room using any smartphone, render that into a panoramic 3D picture in a few minutes, remove all the furniture in it and then add in new items to scale, helping shoppers picture products ‘in-situ’. This will be implemented by Ikea into its website and apps to let people start to create accurate visualisations of their spaces, and how they would look with Ikea pieces in them. While the technology remains nascent, other retailers should definitely take note.

3. Joining up the omni-channel experience

Ecommerce has been a big winner from this past year with millions more now comfortable with shopping online. However the experience remains disappointing for many. A recent survey by Ayden found that more than two thirds (68%) of Brits say they will now not shop with organisations if they had a bad experience either online or in store (an increase of 18% since June 2020). Meanwhile, 53% believe retailers need to do more to link their physical and online stores. Invariably the offline and online experience is not joined up and inconsistent. Too often the focus online is based on the ‘what’, product specs, price etc without thinking about the ‘why’ a consumer wants a product. Smart retailers and brands know it shouldn’t be the ‘channel’ that is the focus but the customer experience, which is then realised across all its touchpoints. Starting with an audit across all channels, brands need to ensure they are visible and joined up. The evidence shows brands who are joined up have succeeded over the past year.

4. Training the experts at scale

A key element of the formula for success instore is a shopper’s engagement with retail sales advisors. Are they proactive, helpful, skilful, knowledgeable, and capable of providing a personalised experience? This is something the online experience can’t replicate and physical retailers need to capitalise upon. Much is down to individuals, their training and management the retailer provides, but when it comes to talking about a brand and its products it is vital they are informed, motivated and most importantly advocates. This is often down to brand led initiatives and while in the past these experiences were provided in person, the pandemic has forced new innovative ways through virtual training being offered with face to face communication not being possible. For example Gekko has developed a new digital learning and engagement platform for brands to talk directly with Retail Sales Advisors, allowing them to choose when and how they learn, with gamification and incentives driving uptake. It’s meant we have been able to train many more staff members and have far more impact. While we will still be visiting face to face – a hybrid model will be our new way of doing business. A bit like peoples’ changed working arrangement, it’s taken a major event to force through a sensible and more efficient way of doing business.

5. The advisor’s new domain – the video call as well as the shopfloor

While digital methods are proving successful to train more instore experts at scale, the digital world can also be utilised to provide direct expert assistance to those making a considered purchase. Curry’s are one brand who tried a new approach during the pandemic with the ShopLive service offering expert advice to assist the sales process. A popup appears asking if you need buying advice, but rather than the experience being a frustrating one with a generic chatbot, shoppers can then start a one way video call with one of their experts. ShopLive now has over 800 ‘tech-perts’, aiding customers through their essential tech purchases. Each new expert goes through two days of specialist training to ensure they can help customers with every tech query. While a face to face conversation with a live product demo and test will always be the best way of answering any customers’ needs, this certainly can aid the sales process for those who would still rather not venture out or can’t for any reason.

Despite the atypical nature of the past year, we have seen many retailers react to the adversity with typical dynamism. The changes and digital transformation that has taken place will in the long run only be a good thing for the industry. A lot of the confident retailers have really begun to find their voice and discover a new way to navigate these uncertain, but exciting waters.

To read the full article please visit Bdaily.

The photo that accompanies this article is by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

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CES 2020 Review: The most interesting tech from this year’s show

Gekko Retail Marketing Male Phone Travel

Gekko Field Marketing MD Daniel Todaro rounds up his interesting tech finds from this year’s CES show

The New Year in tech wouldn’t be the same without CES, the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas between 7th – 10th January attended by almost every established tech brand, start up brands, incubator and brand on the periphery of technology with something to showcase. The products on display range from the expected to the unusual, as in the case of sex tech, which for the first time seems to have found its place and acceptance at CES. As indeed has Ivanka Trump, who was controversially invited to headline as the keynote speaker when arguably there are far more qualified females, actually from the technology sector, rather than this particular privileged individual.

CES welcomed over 175,000 visitors to see over 4,500 exhibitors and 1,000+ speakers making it quite a big deal within the technology industry. It also means lots of product and innovation announcements, such as the smart shower head with Alexa built-in from Kohler, a smart frying pan that analyses your food whilst you cook it from SmartyPans, to autonomous vehicles from the now established brands in this sector and not so with Sony launching its autonomous vehicle prototype named Vision S. The vehicle is a prototype designed to show off the firm’s sensors and in-car entertainment technologies. The dashboard is flanked by an ultra-wide panoramic screen for driving information and entertainment. However, Sony did not indicate that it had any plans to sell the car to the public with Sony’s chief executive Kenichiro Yoshida only stating “We will accelerate our efforts to contribute to the future of mobility”.

Do you Uber? Well in future you may be doing so in the Uber Hyundai flying taxi. The S-A1 concept is an electric powered aircraft with four rotors for vertical lift off and landing and conceptually able to travel at a maximum speed of 180mph carrying four passengers. Flying autonomously at 2,000ft for a maximum of 60 miles, it may be zipping across a city skyline near you in the not too distant future.

Surveillance related technology seemed to be big this year with multiple brands showcasing security equipment such as cameras, doorbells and motion sensors, which is really rather boring and perhaps only serves to feed the paranoia of those who fear the worst. Loosely connected to this category is one of my favourite products to be announced, a smart mailbox developed by Canadian company Danby, which addresses the common problem of parcels thefts and re-deliveries. The device would assist in reducing the carbon footprint of our propensity to order online for delivery rather than buy in-store. The smart mailbox will apparently go on sale in the UK later this year offering a box which has an anti-theft drop-in slot for smaller packages opened with a code or smartphone app. The app will also be able to place phone calls between a parcel courier and a customer if they need to open the box remotely. I suspect this will get simplified should usage increase amongst users and online retailers.

Samsung Balie device
Samsung’s Ballie – a tennis ball-like robot that rolls around, following its owner with a built-in camera to capture and store ‘special moments’

Another neat headline grabber announced at CES 2020 was the Samsung tennis ball-like robot called Ballie. It beeps and rolls around, following its owner with a built-in camera to capture and store ‘special moments’. Ballie also acts as a fitness assistant, can help with household chores, and activates smart home devices such as robotic vacuums when it thinks something needs to be cleaned. However, in common with the Daleks, it will find stairs a challenge! No release date has been announced, however AI and 5G are the main focus for Samsung in 2020 and not Bixby, as had been much hyped last year. Another product launched by Samsung and to be available in the UK and US later this year is the Sero TV, a rotating TV which connects to your phone. Perfect for Generation Z or those who spend equal time watching on a small device as they do TV. It can be rotated from landscape to portrait and is only available in a 47” 4k screen and estimated to land at £1,200.

Another twist on the laptop came from Dynabook. Majority owned by Sharp and formally Toshiba, the brand that launched the world’s first laptop computer in 1985, Dynabook has delivered another first with the world’s lightest 13.3” laptop. Weighing in at an impressive 0.9kg and sporting a nifty 10th gen Intel Core U-series processor the Portege X30L-G is built using a magnesium-alloy chassis and includes a full-size HDMI. With Gigabit Ethernet, up to 24GB memory and Wi-Fi 6 the device also includes a TPM 2.0 IR camera and fingerprint reader.

Not to be outdone was Lenovo with its ThinkPad X1. A dual/ folding screened laptop with an Intel processor that runs Windows on a 13” screen when unfolded. It is slated to arrive mid 2020 in the US at a price of $2,499 with no word yet on UK pricing.

In fact, there were a rash of foldable screens on display this year and it certainly seems to be a trend not looking to abate soon, making 2020 potentially the start of a flexible decade. Foldable screens were launched on devices from turkish brand TCL and its prototype Foldable Phone (no name as of yet) and Dell with two concepts, the Duet – Foldable Notebook and Ori – a Foldable Device, unfortunately no plans to release these have been indicated. The much publicised Motorola Razr foldable phone was on display which has been available for pre order since December but was set for released during January 2020.

As you can imagine, smart speakers and assistant-enabled products were everywhere at CES 2020. With over 46 third-party Google Assistant-endabled products and 40 Amazon Alexa ones, it made the presence of both brands more notable throughout the show, with Google creating theatre to engage, as they do best.

Google revealed, for the first time, user numbers for the services is at 500 million people in a month and also a whole range of new features enabling users to schedule certain tasks with other connected devices. The features will allow users to, for example, schedule the washing machine to start its cycle at 6pm and also upload contacts from your phone to your Google Nest Hub.

Users will also be able to leave Sticky Notes on the screen for others in the house to see and have the ability to control 20 different types of devices through Google Assistant, which is needed with the increasing third party product partnerships.

Dynabook Portege X30L-G laptop
Dynabook has delivered another first with the world’s lightest 13.3” laptop. The Portege X30L-G weighs in at an impressive 0.9kg and sports a nifty 10th gen Intel Core U-series processor

Now we are all busy people and many time saving devices were on show but two stood out to me. The first will make sure we never need to drink a warm tinny again. The Matrix Juno supercooler is a kitchen countertop device priced at £300 which uses a thermoelectric cooling engine to absorbs heat using electricity known as the Peltier effect. It can cool a can of beer from room temperature to 4oc in two minutes or a bottle of wine to its desired 9oc in five minutes.

The other is the Y-brush toothbrush from FasTeesH designed to clean your teeth in 10 seconds. It’s a mouthguard type contraption packed with bristles that vibrate to clean all your teeth at the same time, arriving in March at around £100. I can’t help but think that making time by speeding up the process of cleaning your teeth has never been a priority for many, the cleaning is what counts.

Not wanting to ignore the most progressive news at CES this year, I think it important to highlight and applaud the CES organisers decision to now formally allow sex tech brands to exhibit at CES in 2020 after many years of exclusion. What this means is that sex tech companies are on the same playing field as all but in particular the established tech giants. However, there are exclusions with those companies exhibiting sexual wellness products having to agree in addition to the CES’s standard contract and rules also a separate sex toy addendum.

Why is this a progressive move? It’s predicted to be a $50 billion industry by 2025 and as taboos tumble and generations embrace a pragmatic approach to sexuality and sex, it’s an industry sector the ‘big players’ may wish to enter and penetrate as a lucrative growth market.

With so many new products announced at CES 2020, what does it mean for retailers? And how must they adapt to innovation across existing and new categories? Experience. Consumers are looking to experience innovation in order to make educated purchasing decisions. Whether that be by seeing a foldable screen in their hand to believe it, engaging with a personal robot to realise its value to them as a user or see that TV rotate 180 degrees, it’s all about the in-store experience a retailer can create where no online retailer can.

Innovation needs to be experienced live, not online and the retailers who can identify with this can cut through to make the tills ring by giving the customer an experience worth coming back for and spreading the word. People are never going to stop shopping on the high street. It’s just the way they shop and where they are do it that has changed. Retail, as an industry, is vital to the global economy, so as we enter a new era of high street retailing, my advice to brands is: Always let consumers ‘live’ the experience and feel the brand.

To read the article on PCR online click here

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Do millennials ignore the environmental impact of online shopping?

gekko-retail-marketing-new-gekko-survey-finds-the-majority-of-shoppers-have-returned-to-stores

As high street retail continues to deplete and more people shop online, increasing to 19% of all retail sales in December 2019*, a new report by retail marketing experts Gekko shows there’s increasing consumer concern about the environmental and societal impact of this transition and a marked difference in attitude depending on age.

The younger generation may tout their eco credentials but they are more easily lured into wasteful spending and shopping online with over half (53%) of 18-24 and 46% of 25-34 year olds admitting to being tempted into buying things they don’t need online, with just 19% of canny 55+ year olds saying the same.

More than five times as many 18-24 as 55+ year olds admitted to regularly buying goods online that they regret, so return them – 17% versus just 3%. And 45% of 18-24 and 42% of 25-34 year olds also admitted to being wasteful buying items they didn’t want and failing to return them, compared to only 17% of older consumers.

Surprisingly and despite the high profile of Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg, younger shoppers make less conscious choices than some may think about the environmental impact of online shopping versus older consumers. In general, 73% of consumers are concerned about excess packaging associated with online purchase and deliveries and 74% are worried about the amount of single use plastic in packaging.

However, just over a third (38%) of 18-24 and 33% of 24-35 year olds are unconcerned about the use of excessive packaging. This compares to 19% of over 55 year olds. And despite it being such a huge national issue and talking point over the last year, 34% of 18-24 year olds and 31% of 24-35 year olds aren’t concerned about single use plastic, versus 19% of over 55 year olds.

Even the gig economy does not seem to be a problem for the generation arguably most likely to be more exploited by it, with 50% of 18 to 24 years olds unconcerned about online shopping increasing it versus 33% of 55+ year olds. And 44% of 18-24 year olds don’t fret about the impact on the High Street and local economy of online shopping, versus 23% of 55+ year olds.

According to Daniel Todaro, MD of Gekko: “Younger generations spend more time online and are therefore less inclined to resist that impulse buy. They are far more likely to buy things they regret, order more than one size, items they never intend to keep and send the goods back, but this convenience has an environmental impact.

“The future of the High Street is a vital societal component and offers a more ethical approach to shopping. If you can try before you buy there’s less transport, packaging and waste without the need to order multiple sizes or colours of the same item. The High Street sustains the heart of a community, no shops means no point heading to the High Street – there’s only so much coffee a community can afford or want to drink.”

To read the full article please visit BDaily.

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Are millennials ignoring the environmental impact of online shopping?

Gekko Retail Marketing Group Selfie

As high street retail continues to deplete and more people shop online, increasing to 19% of all retail sales in December 2019*, a new report by retail marketing experts Gekko shows there’s increasing consumer concern about the environmental and societal impact of this transition and a marked difference in attitude depending on age.

The younger generation may tout their eco credentials but they are more easily lured into wasteful spending and shopping online with over half (53%) of 18-24 and 46% of 25-34 year olds admitting to being tempted into buying things they don’t need online, with just 19% of canny 55+ year olds saying the same.

More than five times as many 18-24 as 55+ year olds admitted to regularly buying goods online that they regret, so return them – 17% versus just 3%.  And 45% of 18-24 and 42% of 25-34 year olds also admitted to being wasteful buying items they didn’t want and failing to return them, compared to only 17% of older consumers.

Surprisingly and despite the high profile of Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg, younger shoppers make less conscious choices than some may think about the environmental impact of online shopping versus older consumers.  In general, 73% of consumers are concerned about excess packaging associated with online purchase and deliveries and 74% are worried about the amount of single use plastic in packaging.

However, just over a third (38%) of 18-24 and 33% of 24-35 year olds are unconcerned about the use of excessive packaging. This compares to 19% of over 55 year olds. And despite it being such a huge national issue and talking point over the last year, 34% of 18-24 year olds and 31% of 24-35 year olds aren’t concerned about single use plastic, versus 19% of over 55 year olds.

Even the gig economy does not seem to be a problem for the generation arguably most likely to be more exploited by it, with 50% of 18 to 24 years olds unconcerned about online shopping increasing it versus 33% of 55+ year olds.  And 44% of 18-24 year olds don’t fret about the impact on the High Street and local economy of online shopping, versus 23% of 55+ year olds.

According to Daniel Todaro, MD of Gekko: “Younger generations spend more time online and are therefore less inclined to resist that impulse buy. They are far more likely to buy things they regret, order more than one size, items they never intend to keep and send the goods back, but this convenience has an environmental impact.

“The future of the High Street is a vital societal component and offers a more ethical approach to shopping. If you can try before you buy there’s less transport, packaging and waste without the need to order multiple sizes or colours of the same item. The High Street sustains the heart of a community, no shops means no point heading to the High Street – there’s only so much coffee a community can afford or want to drink.”

To read the full article please visit Retail Times.

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Live the Experience and Feel the Brand

gekko-retail-marketing-smart-home-tablet-phone

Henry Matisse once said “creativity takes courage” and we’ve certainly seen a lot of creative bravery from brands that now have an incredible marketing canvas on which to paint. It’s a great time to be a marketer, leveraging opportunity and enabling people to immerse and engage in what a brand has to offer. And this has seen some incredible business transformations, with brands rising out of the ashes to new-found fame whilst others find themselves, sadly, unable to capitalize.

Let’s take Gucci, for example, and think about where it would be without social media. Partnerships with the upper echelon of society and celebrities were no longer cutting it – Gucci is a beautiful, classic, heritage brand that had lost its relevance. But wait a few years, bring in the influencers, and Gucci is massively cool again. If Billie Eilish wears it, then who am I to judge?! And, of course, this is all backed up by expensive, gorgeous, and glamorous ATL activations.

However, one thing that these currently successful brands all appear to have invested in is the ‘brand experience store’ — and bringing marketing to life on the shop floor. If you’re going to buy a Gucci handbag that you see on Instagram, Facebook or TV, you’re certainly going to want to touch and feel it before you buy it. For some people, it may be like buying a high-street bag but for others this purchase will be a naughty bit of extravagance or a once-in-a-blue-moon treat.

Creative brand artistry needs to live in the ‘real world’ for consumers and to maintain longevity for a brand. Consumers need to be able to feel, see, touch, and engage with a brand and its products to truly buy into it, not just for one purchase. So, with brick and mortar retail struggling globally, it’s important that we hero its role for brands, consumers, the community, and society in general. In the UK, 78% of purchases are still made in physical retail — a figure that astonishes most people.

Retailers may have axed 85,000 UK jobs in the last year, according to the British Retail Consortium, and yes, it’s tragic, but a lot of the blame lies with those brands that didn’t have the agility to reimagine their business models quick enough, with too many stores and not enough experience. But juxtaposed against this — and interestingly alongside fashion and beauty brands which you’d expect — it’s the ‘technology super brands’ doing brand experience really well. The exact brands you think would shy away from a traditional retail presence are sharing their creative artistry and putting the customer experience at the core of their strategy.

Brands like Samsung, Microsoft, and Apple have invested heavily in their experience stores in prime retail sites. These stores are cool and innovative — mixing retail and leisure — showcasing full product suites, curating ambiance with luxury lounges, and most importantly ‘talent’. Those people who work on the shop floor, greet your customers, represent your brand and product portfolio every day and who drive sale through your product by creating interactions that are rewarding for everyone.

It was recently reported in The Times that Amazon, once deemed as fully responsible for the demise of the high street, is discreetly building a team of British property experts amid speculation that it will expand its physical presence. So, if the most successful online business, whose Amazon Go and Whole Foods brands are examples of physical retail, believes in bricks and mortar as part of their commercial strategy, then surely everyone else must?

It becomes too easy to believe the self-fulfilling prophecy that online shopping is perfect, and the high street is a busted flush. So, the moral of this story? Brands can spend as much money as they like creating extraordinary marketing artistry, but at some point this has to live in the real world, with real brand advocates in-store, selling your products, making the tills ring, and giving the customer an experience worth coming back for and spreading the word. People are never going to stop shopping on the high street; It’s just the way and where they are doing it that has changed. Retail, as an industry, is vital to the global economy, so as we enter a new era of brick and mortar retailing, my advice to brands is: Always let consumers ‘live’ the experience and feel your brand.

To read the full article please visit Branding Mag.

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Tapping into the booming esports market

Gekko Retail Marketing Group Selfie

In July 2019, spanning three days, the largest gathering of gamers from around the world – 40 million – took part in the Fortnite World Cup tournament. Hailed as a monumental moment for esports, the winner, a 16-year-old, took home £2.42 million. The prize sum overshadowed the £1.6 million Shane Lowry won at this year’s Golf Open Championship in Portrush. The esports industry is becoming increasingly popular, rivalling many traditional sporting events with the Fortnite tournament watched by 23,000 people in a sold out New York stadium and millions more through live streams.

This highlights how the gaming industry and its place in culture has evolved, with gamers stepping away from their own consoles to watch others play their favourite games. And not surprisingly, this is reflected in the size of the gaming market which continues to grow rapidly. According to Newzoo, there are reportedly 2.3 billion active gamers globally and 46% of those (1.1 billion) spending, the financial impact to the establishment is significant. More so with the forecasted growth of gaming from $137.9 billion in 2018 to more than $180.1 billion by 2021. Looking just at the UK, the gaming market is now worth a record £5.7 billion thanks in part to the strong foundations in place for innovative games and entrepreneurial developers.

The next 12-18 months looks set to be a very interesting for the sector with some of the big names in gaming hardware expected to reveal their next generation platforms. Expectation is that Sony, who have sold 525 million consoles since launching PlayStation in 1994, will start to ship their latest console in the second half of 2020. And of course both Nintendo and Microsoft will be in the mix too. Microsoft officially announced its next generation hardware, codenamed Project Scarlett, during its E3 2019 conference and it’s due for release in time for “Holiday 2020”.

Before that is the exciting debut of Stadia in Q4 this year which may be a potential fly in the ointment for the established gaming brands. Google’s launch of Stadia is a game-changer, and a move that will have Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony quite concerned. No downloads, no patches and no console makes this the cloud gamers dream, and Google is delivering this incredible service without compromising on graphics quality.

As Phil Harrison VP and general manager at Google stated when launching Stadia: “It’s a new generation platform, rather than a next generation platform”. In evolving the concept of platforms, rather than recreating them, Stadia will be a tough act to follow, with sharing options via YouTube, which has 63 million daily viewers worldwide, Google Assistant built in, 4K resolution games at 60 frames per second with HDR (High Dynamic Range), and a plan to support 8K resolution in the future.

The excellent features are great news to those who have grown up used to on-demand web-based entertainment, app-based games and instant updates to technology, but for generations who are familiar with buying physical consoles and games, this could be a transition they may not make because nostalgia can come into play. Owning a console and saving up to buy the latest must have game and completing it before trading it in to buy the next release, has been a pleasure to many.

The generational changes in consumers has seen Millennials identify with nostalgia and they recapture their youth through console gaming just as they have been doing for over 20 years. There is a shared enjoyment amongst social groups in getting together and playing a multiplayer game on Mario Kart on the original Wii. It’s also interesting to see how the retro gaming sector tapping into this and making headlines. Available to buy this Christmas will be a reimagined full-sized reissue of the Commodore 64.

Giving this generation a chance to either buy or play the consoles and games of their youth could open up a new opportunity for gaming retailers, because a streaming service is not great news for those retailing the hardware to eager gamers needing to upgrade to access the dream being sold by the platforms. Indeed, GAME has been battling tough high street conditions and has seen in the past three months a successful take over by Sports Direct. The British sports gear retailer said it did not believe that, as a standalone business, GAME was “able to weather the pressures that it is facing”.

Furthermore, the introduction of streaming could see the resale market suffer too, again a blow to high street stores such as GAME and CEX.

This is an evolving and exciting market with opportunities and pitfalls for the whole supply chain. I started this piece discussing the phenomenon that was the Fortnite World Cup and for retailers, this presents a huge opportunity to tap into this ‘experience’ economy and revive their fortunes by using empty high street spaces to create purpose-built gaming arenas for live gaming where the community can come together. But there’s no doubt that we’re going to see a ferocious battle between Stadia and the console manufacturers – so let the games begin.

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Equipping young minds for a successful digital future

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The UK is leading the adoption of digital technology enabled in education with UK Schools allocated an estimated £900 million in funding from the Department of Education for 2019-20 for EdTech according of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

In physical terms this equates to 3,392,100 computers in classrooms across the UK with an average Primary School having 70 computers and Secondary an average of 431[BESA.ORG]

There are currently 32,113 schools in the UK. Of these, 20,925 are primary schools and 4,168 are secondary schools. There are 2,381 independent schools, 1,256 special schools and 351 pupil referral units. [BESA.ORG]

The opportunity to expand Edtech sales are obvious for those who know how to tap into this growing market that values accessible technology to equip young minds for a successful ‘digital’ future. There are also benefits for already stretched schools to help bridge the gap through Edtech as it’s proven to reduce teacher workload, boost student outcomes and help create a level playing field for those requiring learning support. So much so that the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, set out plans in April this year to support innovation and raise the bar in education establishments across England backed by a £10 million injection.

School funding per pupil is expected to be frozen in real terms between 2017-2018 and 2019-20 albeit at a level of above 4% – IFS

The target audience is not exclusively schools, it’s also parents, as many public secondary schools employ a BYOD program, therefore parents are expected to buy their child a suitable device. However, this is becoming stricter as previously it was an “any device will do” approach but due to different devices having different capacities and capabilities, this has changed. Today, school book lists stipulate the minimum requirements for a device to create a more uniform and compatible ecosystem that is hassle free for all.

The retail market for Back To School is worth, in all categories, some £1.45bn in the UK and is an increasingly important fixture in the retail calendar, becoming competitive for both brands and retailers endeavouring to appeal, in particular to secondary school pupils and those students heading off to university.

From PC to projection and display technology such as Jamboard from Google & BenQ the classroom is changing where technology is the norm and standard for students as they transition through their education and eventually into the workplace.

It’s not just about the hardware and software solutions, it’s also about the teachers who need professional development and training to understand how each device could work and how they can effectively add them in to their lesson plans. Figures from Bett highlight that 74% (rising from 60% in 2018) of educators surveyed said that educational technology is often not sufficiently easy to use for ordinary teachers. So, those brands that offer the end to end solution that enables education access to the best technology with the easiest interface, least maintenance and highest reliability will capitalise on this growing market.

Chromebook by Google is one of these, Google shared in January 2019 that 30 million Chromebooks are now used in education, up 5 million from the last reported figures in 2018. Growth has been aided by many country’s education systems choosing to use Chrome OS devices and G Suite cloud based computing solutions that enable collaborative learning accessible whenever you need it. In London the brand has worked with London Grid for Learning to help over 90% of schools across the city bring technology to more students by offering free training in Google Classroom, G Suite and other tools to help improve the digital skills of teachers.

Similarly, are Epson who have identified that 58% of students cannot read all content on a 70“ flat panel. Epson’s interactive display solutions provide scalable image size. Having the right sized image for a room can make a huge difference to levels of concentration, enjoyment and understanding.

The DFE in April 2019 published a white paper entitled “Realising the potential of technology in education: A strategy for education providers and the technology industry” DfE White Paper.

This white paper identified 10 challenges for industry to assist in eradicating these within education quoting: “To catalyse change in the use of technology across the English education system, we are launching a series of EdTech challenges. They are designed to support a partnership between EdTech industry and the education sector to ensure product development and testing is focused on the needs of the education system. The challenges are to industry and the education sector (including academia) to prove what is possible and to inform the future use of EdTech across our education system.”

Setting out their stool to really help children in education be ‘digital’ ready.

To read the full article please visit Bdaily News.

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How 5G will boost the smart home market

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Over the last few years, smart home technology has revolutionised the way we live at home and according to PWC’s white paper, ‘Connected Home 2.0’, £10.8bn will be spent on smart home devices in the UK in 2019. But despite this, a recent survey we carried out into the connected home highlighted consumer frustration with smart home technology, with consumers citing that they can’t get their smart home technology to connect to each device and talk to each other, they have no idea how it all works, they are worried about security and there’s little perceived benefit or value.

Whilst this may sound negative, this presents a huge opportunity for 5G to boost further device adoption and showcase the future possibilities in the home.

There’s been a lot of hype around 5G – from downloading a full HD movie in under five seconds to making fully automated vehicles a reality – but I believe 5G will be a transformative technology for the home, as it’s spearheading a multi-dimensional world connecting devices, brands and people in real time with its fast bandwidth and reduced latency. Take a look round your home, count up the numerous devices that rely on a strong wireless connection to stream, to work, to secure, to survive – tablets, mobiles, TVs, voice assistants, PCs, thermostats, light-bulbs, alarms, cameras, and gaming right through to connected appliances. Without a good connection, they can all come to a grinding halt.

Stadia by Google is an example of where 5G and gaming complement each other. No downloads, no patches and no console makes this the cloud gamers dream, and Google is delivering this incredible service without compromising on graphics quality. With 2.3bn active gamers globally and 46% of those (1.1bn) spending, the financial impact to the establishment is significant. Stadia will be a tough act to follow, with sharing options via YouTube, which has 63m daily viewers worldwide, Google Assistant built in, 4K resolution games at 60 frames per second with HDR (High Dynamic Range), and a plan to support 8K resolution in the future. Now with Stadia, the internet – accessed increasingly via 5G – will be your store, with the network and data centre as your platform.

The innovation that is 5G will provide an alternative to fixed wireless internet making things connect quickly, faster, nicely and simply. From rural areas where broadband speeds are poor to urban areas where speeds can suffer from congestion, 5G will enhance the possibilities for entire communities and not only the smart home.

This will pave the way for 5G enabled fully integrated living spaces that adjust to the needs of each member of the family, changing the way people entertain, consume media, use their utilities, communicate and cook. Virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Home are only the start and we’ve seen just a fraction of what personal assistants are capable of. Google announced at CES earlier this year that it wants to make its assistant the focal point of a consumer’s life; in the home, in the car and on mobile devices. 5G will be that enabler.

Layer on top of this the possibilities of 5G enabled in-home augmented and virtual reality for cooking. Imagine at the touch of a button, Delia or Jamie standing next to you showing you how to cook one of their recipes. Sit down with your friends and family to watch a tennis match and image real time sports data appearing over tennis players as they hit the ball. 5G will make smart homes even smarter by unshackling developers from the speed restrictions and other issues that exist with today’s solutions where devices rely on Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth connections.

For those who feel security could be an issue, the good news is that mobile operators are ensuring security is built into the fabric of their 5G networks and there’s no reason for 5G networks to be any less secure to use than 4G. When connecting a device to a 5G network the same protocols you’d apply to security software, passwords etc. should be applied as normal, however it is worth noting that all data sent over 5G is encrypted and 5G devices will offer increasingly advanced security options. Interestingly, according to research from Ericsson, 29% of people would like DNA authentication to be a biometric security option.

The reality is that 5G can provide a more consistent approach, making things easier to setup and thus encouraging product development through to subsequent consumer adoption and increased usage of the vastly developed Internet of Things. With inbuilt future proofing, one of the most interesting effects will be the societal impact 5G will have for our ageing population, assisting those who are fit but may be less able to manage themselves. This may blur the lines between hospital and home. For many, it’s more effective to manage the healthcare of patients who require the most resources from home rather than via our currently overloaded NHS. In addition, its adoption can reduce loneliness and speed of response in the event of an emergency.

We’ve already seen how sensor operated smart home tech can alert families to movement, so they know their elder relatives are up and about in the house and not lying there injured. There are also remote surgeries where doctors see patients by video call, however buffering is often an issue in remote locations, which makes the service more difficult for vulnerable people to use. The implementation of 5G will take this to a whole new level; real-time remote monitoring of medication usage; food intake levels and exercise; connecting the vulnerable to seamlessly operated telehealth services and tracking indicators from sleep to blood pressure and insulin levels.

It can help power personalised, preventative and smarter care capabilities and elevate connected medicine to an unprecedented level, helping elderly people live fulfilling and productive lives on their terms. This is exciting times for a growing societal issue here in the UK but let’s not underestimate the understanding we need of the health ecosystem and what it will take to implement the systems to connect to these technologies.

The opportunities 5G technology offers all generations extends beyond the home and to the streets through autonomous vehicles, traffic management and the smart monitoring of the environment around you, telling you in real-time, for example, where best to avoid pollution on your daily run. Moreover, everything you would currently expect to be able to access or control in the home will be available to you wherever you are, without any comprises imposed on you by being away from regular Wi-Fi based connectivity.

Ericsson forecasts that by 2024, 5G subscriptions will reach 1.9bn, and that coverage could blanket up to 65% of the world’s population.

The UK’s largest network operator, EE, was the first to launch 5G in the UK on 30th May, 2019, beaten by the Swiss who launched in April. Service started in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham, and Manchester, with several other cities joining before 2020. Vodafone also launched on 3rd July 2019 in seven cities with 12 other cities to be included before 2020. Three will join the 5G race in August in London. A total of 25 other locations will get 5G in the UK via Three before 2020. Lastly O2, with no published launch date, announced its plans to roll out its 5G network in 2019 in Cardiff, London, Belfast, and Edinburgh to start, with more areas getting 5G in 2020.

Whilst the UK is already partially 5G enabled, devices are limited and we’re not that far ahead of the vast majority of developed nations whom all plan to launch in 2019/2020 such as Germany, Italy and Norway all behind Vodafone Spain who are ahead of all EU nations having launched on 15th June in 15 cities.

To read the full article please visit PCR.

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Wearables for all: How the decade’s most hyped technology has found its groove

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There was much talk of wearable technology in the early part of this decade and in what can only be described as a media frenzy. Google launched its hotly awaited Google Glass in 2012. It was everywhere, Diane von Furstenberg used the product on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week, while Virgin Atlantic tied up with the brand for flight crew to check in passengers on selected trans-Atlantic flights. Whilst available to a selected group of subscribers, it unfortunately never made the shelves but set the pace as the pioneer.

The sale of smartwatches and trackers such as the Jawbone UP and Fitbit Flex accelerated in 2013 and things started to evolve rapidly. Then in 2015 we saw the launch of the first Apple Watch. While there has been commentary on the demise of the whole category with Jawbone already defunct, smartwatches are still the only product where we’ve seen continued sales and enhanced innovation, with luxury brands like TAG Heuer launching a range of Google Wear OS devices. According to Statista, global wearable technology sales in 2018 were 123 million units, with trackers making up 15 million and smartwatches 80 million. Watches are still growing faster than any other category and forecasted by CCS Insight to reach 142 million units worldwide in 2019 and a staggering 260 million units by 2023.

There’s little doubt we’ve come to a point where the market is less about the consumer tech and gadgets that we might see in store and rather more about the application of wearable technology – driven by trackers and smartwatches – into other fields such as health and wellbeing that are having a real and valuable impact on people’s lives.

Wearables are evolving. Motiv’s smart ring won Breakout of the Year at the Wearable Tech Awards 2018, but the jury is still out on its success. Looking at the exhibitors at 2019’s Wearable Technology Show, it indicates that there’s more than just smartwatches, but many innovations are being driven by health and wellbeing.

Looking at the impact automated insulin delivery has on patients and parents of children with severe diabetes, WELT is well documented and was one of the most talked about pieces of tech from CES 19. The new SMART belt from Samsung, launched at IFA 2018, can help tackle one of the biggest health challenges of the 21st century, rising obesity. The belt can monitor weight, walking speed, sitting duration and eating habits. Another interesting application of wearable tech is Quell 2.0. This over the device wearable from Neurometrix uses advanced neurotechnology to stimulate sensor nerves sending neural pulses to the brain and blocking pain signals. The device is designed to block multiple types and sources of pain.

Innovation in wearable technology is as big as manufacturers dare it to be and wearable tech used today has evolved to be practical and convenient to make our daily lives more efficient. For resellers it’s interesting to note that it’s claimed that one in ten wearable owners have two or more devices, with those who don’t currently own a wearable stating that they are in the market for one. Research shows that fitness devices and smartwatches are equally wanted to aid in health, detect calorie intake, assess overall fitness and provide stress measurements.

Advances in nanotechnology, batteries and microprocessors have meant the devices can be small and lightweight. It therefore looks to me like the future of wearable tech is in the sublime not the ridiculous. Tech companies that succeed will be the ones that understand consumer behaviour and are solving real world customer needs or problems, rather than just focusing on ‘what’s possible’. Linked to real time data and tapping into human needs, its potential now does seem potentially revolutionary, with applications in health being a particular game-changer for the wearables category.

This decade’s most hyped of technologies has found its groove, enabling not just athletes to monitor wellbeing and lifestyle but for all manner of consumers and in a variety of exciting form factors.

To read the full article please visit PCR.

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