Future Retail: adapting to the digital landscape of the future

From an increasing distrust of institutions to the rise of mixed-use spaces, WORKTECH’s Future Retail conference shed new light on how organisations can tackle issues of physical space and data management

The relationship between consumers and organisations has become increasingly strained in recent years amid ambiguity around data protection, causing record levels of distrust of institutions in 2017.

On 28 February 2018, almost 200 senior retail decision-makers braved the Beast from the East to attend the Future Retail conference hosted at the newly renovated Battersea Power Station development in London to learn and share how organisations can repair this fractured relationship.

As people become more aware about how their data is being used, organisations are becoming more accountable. This has led to a new social contract in which consumers are expecting more from organisations in exchange for their data. Richard Cope, senior trends consultant at Mintel and speaker at Future Retail, explained that people are demanding more from organisations to improve their lives, such as health insurance companies using smart data from fitness trackers to lower cover rates.

Demanding more from organisations to improve lives…

Amazon has used its acclaimed foresight to team with conglomerate holding company Berkshire Hathaway and American bank J P Morgan to create a not-for-profit healthcare group, which aims to lower healthcare costs for its collective million employees. As a result, the employer pays less towards their employees’ health insurance whilst also gaining the trust of their workers by reducing costs for them. Scrutiny of corporate enterprises will not go away, so organisations need to demonstrate that they are using their position of power to help actual people.

The physical-digital blur

In the ecosystem of customer experience, physical space has traditionally held centre stage. However, the development of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) is changing the game. Jack Stratton of Insider Trends told the conference that companies can use people’s data to create a profile in real time to tailor a service to them. This is challenging the model of a typical ‘tech business’.

Stratton explained that Domino’s, the pizza delivery service, is now primarily a technology company that happens to deliver pizza. Its investment in self-driving cars to deliver pizza and its experimentation with emerging technologies transforms the company from the analogue to the digital sphere.

Co-mingling spaces

Future Retail’s host, Battersea Power Station, was once a symbol of the future. Recently it has been an industrial relic on London’s changing landscape, serving as a reminder of the past. Its unique architecture and location has always sparked intrigue – and countless redevelopment schemes. Today, the past and future are colliding in the form of a truly integrated mixed-use space.

Property consultant to Battersea Power Station, Cushman & Wakefield, recognised that the space would not succeed unless it incorporated a blend of residential, corporate workplace and retail destinations. Battersea Power Station is now set to be home to Apple’s new London offices, a mixture of retail and hospitality spaces, and residential flats. This promotes a culture of ‘co-mingling’, a term coined by Cushman & Wakefield’s Justin Taylor.

The challenge of the mixed-use destination lies in its curation. It is engineered to be a neighbourhood that breeds a culture of curiosity and convenience, but neighbourhoods traditionally grow organically. How can an authentically successful neighbourhood be artificially manufactured?

Matt Cash of Heatherwick’s Studio suggested that architecture can be used as a device to spark intrigue, and the culture will follow. In the case of the Coal Drops Yard retail development in King’s Cross, Heatherwick Studio has created a unique design which people will visit in its own right. Both the King’s Cross regeneration and the Battersea Power Station development might be termed smart precincts.

While the relationship between corporates and customers might be under strain for some time in the current climate, Future Retail inspired hope that if organisations are responsible with the data they hold and are willing to show transparency and a desire to give back to the mixed-use smart precincts in which they operate, they will regain valuable trust.

Speaker Interviews

Mat Cash, Heatherwick Studios

Jack Stratten, Insider Trends

View the review site of Future Retail here. A full interview with Mat Cash can be found in the Innovation Zone.
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