Q&A: Richard Hewitt, Former Head of Digital Stores at M&S

Richard Hewitt, former Head of Digital Stores at Marks & Spencer (M&S), shares his thoughts on future retail trends.

Among other things, retailers should expect increased connectivity, be careful of the ‘Buzz Lightyear Effect’ and learn from other retailers when they can.

What technological trends do you believe will grow over the next 12 months?

Richard Hewitt (RH): Over the next year I suspect we are going to continue to see the rise of the Internet of Things, with more and more everyday household and personal items becoming connected to the internet. It’s likely that we’ll see wearable technology become commonplace, along with the growth of new payment vectors.

What is the one thing that retailers need to keep front of mind when considering new technologies?

RH: New technology can seem to be very attractive, what I like to call the ‘Buzz Lightyear Effect’. It’s important to be clear on whether there is an early or first mover advantage to bringing on a new piece of tech. For most retailers it’s probably worth learning from others first and copying with pride without having the cost of investing in unproven early-stage technology. It’s not unusual for companies to get wooed by early stage businesses, who use their first rounds of customers as test-beds for unproven concepts. Be clear on the problem that is being solved and make sure the technology being proposed is relevant, scalable and can co-exist with the current technology stack.

What can digital do to help improve the role for store associates?

RH: With the advent of greater mobile connectivity, the potential consumer touch points for brands have grown; this means the in-store experience is only part of a greater web of engagement. Putting the customer at the heart of the experience and not injecting technology for the sake of it is crucial here. It may look cool to give everyone a tablet on the shop floor, but make sure that it’s not getting in the way of the human interaction customers expect in-stores.

Customers elect to come into stores. They also expect, and in many cases prefer, the human touch. Digital needs to be non-intrusive and complementary during customer interactions.

On the operational side there is a considerable amount that can be done to improve internal processes and operational efficiency more generally. Converging around fewer types of devices, building store operations around event-based task management, reducing duplicated efforts and the like are all strong candidates for digital solutions.

Why are you attending Future Stores this year?

RH: Future Stores is a great opportunity to network with colleagues from adjacent businesses and get a picture of what common challenges there are. Seeing what’s coming on the horizon from new and existing vendors is always good and I’m looking forward to being wowed by the amazing new things that are bound to be on display.

At Future Stores, Hewitt will host a board level session on ‘Digitally managed workforce operations: How can you transform business basics with digital tools and maximise store performance?’ It will take place at 5pm on 31 May.

The discussion will cover:

  • Defining a retail process that works for your business: What are the key considerations when choosing different types of technology to support your staff efficiently run your stores?
  • Making sure digital tools are fit for purpose: How to select and use digital to improve the role for your store staff and boost job satisfaction.
  • How to devise a solid strategy when introducing new technologies in-store to ensure you can successfully project manage from behind the scenes.
  • Moving towards automation: How can digital tools help to remove the heavy lifting logistical workload for your staff and cut down on paper work?

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