Magazine article Marketing

Retailers Sharpen Up on the Cutting Edge of Innovation

Magazine article Marketing

Retailers Sharpen Up on the Cutting Edge of Innovation

Article excerpt

Safeway launches its new loyalty card this week. But there's more to the future of retailing than smart cards.

Sainsbury's is exploring virtual reality shopping, BT has an interactive TV shopping system on trial in Essex and the Body Shop is on the Internet.

Next, they'll be saying customers can walk round a supermarket scanning their own goods and pay for them at a special checkout.

Which is exactly what Safeway intends to do in 30 of its stores by Christmas. It is one of just a number of innovations that retailers are investigating in the run-up to the millennium.

As technology gains pace and the year 2000 looms ever closer on the horizon, retail marketers are keenly aware that change is just around the corner.

"Any change will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary in nature," says Fitch's Neil Whitehead. "Things are not going to change overnight."

Industry experts agree that retailers which have tied up millions of pounds in both the high street and out-of-town retail parks are unlikely to write off that investment overnight in pursuit of state-of-the-art technology.

"It was predicted that by the mid-70s more than half of all retail transactions would be done in an out-of-store environment," says Bill Webb, a retail consultant of 15 years standing. "Clearly this was wrong."

Interactive multimedia screens, such as the model currently being tested by Woolworths and Argos, will act as an aid to retailers but are unlikely to totally usurp it.

But, as the public's computer-literacy rate rises, then so too will the acceptance of such media. They will be common sights for the shopper in the future.

This is in spite of pundits and scaremongers alike predicting that this medium, along with its unsophisticated forbear, home shopping, will account for 50% of all retail sales in the next decade.

According to Verdict Research's Deborah Grant, home shopping's current 4% share of the total retail market will only rise to 8% by the year 2010.

However, the proliferation of such projects is evidence in itself that retailers are preparing themselves for the future if not committing themselves wholesale to the altar of technology.

So, if these current 'projects' are just experiments, then which areas will the marketer's attention be focused on in the future.

Given that the majority of retailers have well-established points of distribution many are concentrating on improving the shopping environment, even if that means drawing on the past for a blueprint of the future. …

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