The Secret to Retail Tech Success Isn't the Tech. It's the Planning and Training

Gadgets will gather dust without the right commitment

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Kicking off the tech industry calendar, the Consumer Electronics Show is a prime opportunity for innovators to make their mark on often-crowded marketplaces, or to introduce their goods to valuable new audiences. So it was surprising to me that this year, retail innovation was a somewhat underwhelming affair in comparison to the buzz around other halls.

Retailers are ready to benefit from new technology that might reverse a trend of dwindling footfall and sales. Tech brands that could—and should—have effective retail applications are missing quite an opportunity if they don’t think about this space.

Of all the tech on display, two exhibitors stood out to me for their potential to solve pressing retailer needs.

The first was a tech-enabled “training” system by SellPro that allows quick and inexpensive upskilling of staff. This may not seem like the sexiest innovation in Vegas, but at a time when customers are making most of their purchase decisions online before setting foot in store, the tech could enable retail workers to adapt.

Moving staff from stock-checkers into indispensable support for customers could enable retailers to re-open dialogue and add value. Some brands are making progress towards this dynamic, notably Carphone Warehouse in the U.K., but adopting a platform to train staff could accelerate the process.

My second pick was the face- and gesture-recognition platform Facenote. The applications for this are more easily understood–paving the way for elements of the shopping experience to be more personalized and better automated–even if adoption could be more challenging.

VR was well represented in the CES halls, but I believe this is still a ways away from a retail application until it can effectively recreate the sociable aspects of shopping. However, the supporting tech could enhance physical experiences today.

This year, Sennheiser packed their 3-D Audio technology, which previously required a specialist 9.1 speaker set-up, into a sound bar. The progression of these technologies into consumer-friendly formats such as these are also attractive for in-store adoption.

But how do retail brands decide which tech is right for them?

Investment in a new VR experience will be wasted if the unit sits dormant or has no staff on hand to help customers use it.

It’s absolutely key you understand your brand’s driving purpose, and the role for a piece of tech in bringing that about. Then understanding the customers and their culture will dictate how to roll out new innovations in-store. For instance, facial recognition technology with a digital interface may be well-received in a Tokyo Nike store, but met with skepticism by Parisian shoppers.

Equally, though more prosaically, brands need to consider their ability to deploy and manage the tech. How many times have you seen an iPad on display which either doesn’t work or shows outdated content? Investment in a new VR experience will be wasted if the unit sits dormant or has no staff on hand to help customers use it in the best way.

But these cases needn’t occur if the decision to adopt or not is driven by human benefit and activated with the right resource behind it.

These are the crucial points to take from CES 2018: attractive as the displays can be, customer need and brand suitability have to inform adoption. Otherwise, retailers failing to think carefully about tech are simply taking a spin of the roulette wheel and hoping to get lucky.