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Comment: don’t fall for technology hype

Much of the buzz within the retail industry of late has been around the impact of AI and the gazillion potential applications of its much-hyped new… View Article


Comment: don’t fall for technology hype

Much of the buzz within the retail industry of late has been around the impact of AI and the gazillion potential applications of its much-hyped new variant, generative AI, as epitomised by ChatGPT.

This should not be a great surprise as technology is all about pushing things forward and showcasing the future. This is great for world progress. But inherent in its model is the promotion and sale of the latest cutting-edge solutions to customers who are all too often dazzled by the hype even though they lack visibility of the underlying substance of the proposition. It’s very easy to be convinced that this time the tech really is the answer to all your woes.

The reality is that whatever the solution is, it is unlikely to be the silver bullet to your problems because sadly these things don’t really exist. It will invariably have been oversold by the provider. How many times have we heard retailers and industry experts suggest that businesses should avoid investing in technology for technology’s sake? But the fact is, it is easy for businesses to get sucked into this situation as they face an ongoing army of solutions providers promising them the world.

Paul Wilkinson, group product manager at Deliveroo, has spent previous years at Tesco and Amazon investigating how tech can help retailers and suggests AI like any other technology solution has to be usable for the customer – whether they be internal employees or the general public – and if it’s not also useful to them then they will simply not use it. Clearly, the nub of all this is people.

Amazon appears to have missed this point with its much-vaunted self-service stores that use its JWO (Just Walk Out) technology of cameras and weight sensitive shelving. It has sought to sell this frictionless concept to its own shoppers, within its Amazon Fresh stores, as well as to other retailers. But the customer has not exactly been embracing of this technology-led experience.

To be honest many shoppers still have issues with self-service checkouts. They’ve been around for decades but they are still anathema to many people frustrated by the invariably clunky interfaces and the faceless experience they deliver versus a real face-to-face interaction.

Against this backdrop it was refreshing to hear of the approach taken by Greggs to its technology implementations, which seem to be genuinely built around its employees and its customers. For starters, Tony Taylor, IT & digital director at Greggs, says its tech team is composed of a wide mix of people, many of whom have worked in its stores, which means they understand the exact requirements of tech solutions destined for use in-store.

This is incredibly important because the shops are being increasingly used by customers in a variety of ways – such as for click & collect, home delivery, and ordering via the Greggs app etc… This has fuelled a growing need for various technology solutions to be rolled-out to its stores, with the challenge being to ensure the tech is an enabler. “We don’t want tech to be a barrier. We want to serve customers in an efficient way. As we move into opening in the afternoons and evenings then more [technology] things will need to evolve,” says Taylor.

The company’s development of the Greggs app very much fitted with this philosophy of putting people at the heart of the technology. The company cleverly put its employees’ store discount on the app, which meant everybody in the business had to actively engage with it, and potentially contribute to it evolving, as well as all being able to confidently promote it to the customer base.

Such an approach sounds pretty obvious but it requires a strong will in order to avoid being distracted by the latest solutions to come off the never ending glitzy technology treadmill. It certainly works for Greggs, which has undergone something of a revolution in the last decade to become one of the high street’s true success stories. The only hyped solution in sight has been its vegan sausage roll.

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