Retail Week #RWL2018 recently wrapped up its festival of all things retail. I was there to check things out.

Whilst Retail Week had a number of activities on around Melbourne – summits, training, and other events, they were more appropriate for big business and industry leaders. You, know, the Big thinking type folk from the big end of town.

What Worked for Me

For smaller independent retailers the value was to be found at the The Festival of Retail Ideas, located at the Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre (also known as Jeff’s Shed) in Southbank. The trade show here operated for three days. It ran a number of breakout presentations and discussion panels from the aforementioned industry leaders. The show was run by Inside Retail magazine and entry was free for retailers.

The show bag was impressive, sporting a cotton knapsack style construction. Inside were recent copies of Inside Retail and Interior Fitout magazines, a show guide, and various “swag” like luggage tags and a pen. Oddly, there was a flyer and a free sample from a condom manufacturer, which was unexpected and probably should have been left out. Visitors seemed to be having a good time but not that much of a good time 😉

The show itself had a good mix of exhibitors from a variety of industries. The key topics and related products and services prominently featured: technology, shopfitting, delivery, payments and finance. Retail these days means both bricks and mortar and online retail and both types were catered for. In recent years the line between the two is thinning, and many service providers don’t even distinguish between the two. Rather, they help integrate the two forms of shopping.

I had the pleasure of speaking to representatives from Peak Insight who are helping retailers enhance and monitor their online presence. Click and Collect shoppers from a retailer’s online store will inevitably head in store to collect their order. As they enter the front door, and interact with staff, they are given the opportunity to enhance their experience. This could be from a special offer (an upsell) tailored to their buying habits. Or it could be a reward for posting a selfie on social media, from within the store.

I also visited the Sanbot stand and checked out their cute little robot friends. You may be seeing these robots in a store near you greeting customers and providing typical kiosk functionality such as helping visitors find what they are looking for. They also have built-in surveillance features so they can be a shoplifting deterrent as well. And, they’re not just for retail but could be used in hospitality, medical, and any other environment where interaction is crucial to delivering service to customers.

This idea of unattended greetings was seen elsewhere on the show floor from other vendors. The adoption is likely to become more widespread in the months and years ahead, as retailers look for an edge to boost customer satisfaction in-store.

Artificial intelligence, facial recognition and other technologies combine to give your customers a novel, memorable, and positive experience the second they walk though your door, regardless of how busy your human staff are at the time. More importantly, this isn’t limited to big retail. Quite the contrary: it’s the smaller retailers that have the most to gain from technology because they simply can’t afford to have staff covering the entire shop floor at all hours of the day.

What Didn’t Work for Me

There were a number of presentations, panels, and discussion forums at The Festival. Unfortunately these were let down. Much of the material presented was superficial in nature and didn’t offer much insight or actionable advice for smaller retailers. It’s those small retailers that the organisers need to win over next year. The vendors on the show floor are typically targeting small to medium sized retailers in Australia. Without the foot traffic this event will disappear rather quickly, much like Retail Technology and Retail Expo did a number of years ago.  It takes a lot of time and expense for the small retailer to make their way to this show, and the value just wasn’t there unless they had a specific company or person they wanted to talk to.

As an example, a panel discussion on the Friday talked to some top leaders in Australian retail. But the discussion didn’t offer any insight in to the state of retail, what’s coming up, and what we have to prepare for. Rather it was merely an opportunity for these leaders to tell us how wonderful their business is going, or for the presenter to give lavish praise for their success.

Retail Week went all-in this year to generate some buzz about retailing and dispel myths that bricks-and-mortar retailing is in decay. And that’s just not true. Offline retail can complement online retail and each can enhance the other while they grow together

My Suggestion for Next Year

What we need to see next year is some more practical advice, presentations, products and services for the smaller retailer who wants to take their business to the next level.

Questions for You

Did you go? Why or why not? Did you know about it? If you did go, what were your thoughts and impressions?

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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