The race to get men into space was once the principal driving factor behind the science and technology of the east and the west. Thankfully, the moon has been conquered, the USA and Russia collaborate on space station missions, and since the late 1980s the Cold War has been experiencing – for the most part – a prolonged thaw. If there is any part of the human experience that is still undergoing a race, it is in technical innovation, particularly in the retail sector.
Where Silicon Valley in California was once considered the most likely place on the globe for new business ideas to emanate, the fact is that it is now open season. New suggestions for technological excellent are coming from places as far apart as China and the Philippines.
One aspect that caused retailers to have a serious think about how they addressed their customer base was the great worldwide recession that kicked-off in 2008. The constraints that this placed on consumer spending power meant that management teams had to start thinking outside the box. Traditional retailing methods were out the window, and the ongoing search for innovative ideas became all the rage.
Most retailers embraced the need to think ahead and challenge the status quo. A simple example would be the Tesco Clubcard, awarding shoppers for continually returning to one particular store. Of course, there are now 1,001 outlets offering similar scenarios. But the key matter here is that the retailer and shopper relationship has entered a new phases. There is far more interactivity between the two. Gone are the days when you walked into a shop, paid your money over the till, then walked away with the product, completely switching off thereafter. Today's transactions are all about stoking and then rewarding customer loyalty. A raft of other innovations have been introduced by modern outlets, such as home deliveries, mobile scan-and-shop services and self-service tills.
As for innovations lurking on the horizon? There is no doubt that gadgetry is going to feature strongly. The mobile phone may well be most self-respecting inventor's target of choice these days. But there will be others. Research is currently being undertaken into smart fridges that will possess the capability to order items when they run low. Shopping trolleys will follow shoppers up and down the supermarket aisles, scanning items as they are placed inside them.
Retailers also appreciate a simple enough truth. All the gimmicks in the world are no substitute for simply grabbing customer attention, either through careful marketing strategies or gaining trust through branding. The retail landscape is growing more populated and ‘noisier' all the time. But a combination of originality, innovation and inspiration will still reap rewards.