Blue sky or pie in the sky?

Published by Mike Parkes on Wednesday, 12 Nov 2014

Where next in the retail technological revolution? 

Across the retail sector, we’ve all seen technology grab a firm hold, but like every technological innovation the question is, which are a great notion but won’t survive and which are here to stay? In essence, which are true blue sky and which are pie in the sky that have no real chance of becoming part of everyday retail theatre?

Over recent years, we’ve seen contactless payments grow and become increasingly part of retail transactions, in fact in France, biometric trials are underway using data stored via fingertip scanning to make payments in Auchan and Leroy Merlin DIY stores. We are starting to see increasingly sophisticated ideas as exhibited by US company, Emotient, which is trialling facial recognition technology for retail, using their software to enable customers’ emotions to be assessed, their moods detected and reactions to different products and brands analysed. In fact, Tesco has already trialled a facial scanning app differentiating by gender and broad age range to target customers with offers whilst queuing. Similar sensors are being installed in some US outlets to gather data about how customers are behaving in store, which parts of the store attract most attention and in particular, which products create most interest.


In Regent Street, Ibeacons using Bluetooth technology, send offers and suggestions from window mannequins to your smartphone, whilst digital changing rooms and multi-sensory retail experience options are testing the boundaries of our current thinking and shopping practices.

The digital changing room has also transcended to the virtual store, which provides opportunities for stores to pop up anywhere. Surely pie in the sky? Tesco has already set up a virtual shop on Seoul Metro with fully stocked shelves for customers to browse, select and have delivered to coincide with the end of their commute.

Just a few years ago, 3D printing seemed unlikely to progress, but it is predicted that this facility will be available in the first instance in stores and then more widely in the home. Could you have imagined requiring a part for your dishwasher, lawnmower or your latest DIY project and being able to print it off for a fee? The quality of print is improving, however will it become a mass market product?

Amazon Prime Drone

Finally, no discussion of future technological advances can ignore Amazon and the onset of drones: a fad, a gimmick or a promotional stunt? Who knows? At this year’s Farnborough Airshow, the number of drone manufacturers had grown from 5 in previous years to 17 this year. Increasingly drones are being used by farmers, wedding photographers and documentary makers amongst others. Dronestagram caters for hobbyist drone photographers, the BBC has set up a drone unit, and in Mumbai, Francesco Pizzeria delivered the first e-commerce drone pizza. If you are still doubtful, look to Google and Facebook, which have spent millions on acquiring drone developing companies.

So, all the technological innovations have supporters, but which will really become a part of retail history and which will be destined to join the Sinclair C5?


Mike Parkes, Programme Director, OSS Masters

Mike Parkes is the Programme Director for the Oxford Summer School Masters. The next Masters programme takes place 29 February - 3 March 2016 at the Saïd Business School, Egrove Park where attendees will be able to discuss, explore and establish the future of retail with colleagues from across the sector and eminent experts in the field.

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