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19 Dec

The Latest Retail Technology Trends In the UK and US

Retail Technology

Author: Alex Musto

Similar cultures. The same language. Two sides of the same ocean. The US and UK seem to have a lot in common. But is this true when it comes to retail technology trends? Jon Hughes lives and works in the US as REPL’s vice president for the Americas but he is UK born and bred. With one foot in both countries, Jon has a unique perspective on the two cultures and their retail sectors. In this article, Jon reveals the latest retail technology trends bordering the Atlantic.

A Cultural Comparison

The UK thinks it’s not that different to the US. And the US tends to think many countries work in the same way as America. However, despite their special relationship, the UK and US share differences and similarities that impact consumers, markets and retail technology trends.

US UK Jon’s Comments
Geography – Huge distances for retailers to cover – Smaller – More compressed “Delivery in the US is completely different to the UK. Many deliveries are carried out by contract drivers using their own vehicles. Post is delivered to and picked up from mailboxes outside people’s houses. In the UK, people receive deliveries at home but need to take items to another location to return them.”
Economy – Strong growth- Political uncertainty?- Strong consumer spending – Restricted growth- Political uncertainty due to Brexit (the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union)- Stunted consumer spending “The US economy is booming. Walmart’s shares were recently at an all-time high. There’s more money to go around so people are splurging. It’s typically cheaper to eat out than to buy food from a store and cook at home.”
Consumer expectations – Speed- Convenience- Right first-time- Enhanced experience – Speed- Convenience- Right first-time- Enhanced experience “On both sides of the pond, there’s an expectation among younger workers and consumers in general that everything will be immediate and work perfectly. This transformation in customer experience means retailers need to ensure their offering is high quality. Sometimes consumers are willing to pay more for this, sometimes they’re not. But there’s still an expectation that everything should be available and easy to access.”
Employee expectations – Consumer-grade technology- Expect a degree of control over work-life balance – Consumer-grade technology- Expect a degree of control over work-life balance “Everyone expects tech at work to be at least as good as the consumer technology they use at home whether they’re in the UK or the US. Allocating a work laptop that’s two generations or more behind the laptop your employee owns is not a good place to be.”
Mobile – Poor coverage in some areas like mountain regions- Very expensive  – Generally good 3/4G coverage- Inexpensive  “Phones in the US are expensive – around $500 for a new handset. And annual bills cost even more averaging $80 a month. In the UK the average bill drops to $35 per month.”
Brands – Bigger, more fragmented market- Brand choice defined at retailer level – Smaller, less fragmented market- Multiple own-brands, price points and quality tiers within a single retailer “UK food retail brands operate multiple own-brands in the same store. In Tesco, a leading grocery retailer, low, middle and top-end brands are clearly defined. They provide the same kinds of products but are slightly better quality and more expensive as you progress up the brands. In the US, to get a better product, you go to a different store. From Walmart to Whole Foods or Trader Joes.”
Payment – Checks are a commonly used form of payment – Cheques are very rarely used “In the US, kids are taught how to balance a checkbook in schools. This is unthinkable in the UK.”

These differences have impacted various areas of retail, including distribution and point-of-sale (POS) to mobile and online. This has dictated the way retail technology trends have developed in the US and UK. However, underpinning the disparities are similar end-goals of speed, convenience and an enhanced customer experience that’s right first time. To fulfil these objectives, retailers are innovating to shape future retail technology trends in 2019 and beyond. 

What Are The Recent Trends In Retailing?

POS Tech Trends – Different Ways of Taking Payment

In the UK, chip and personal identification numbers (PINs) cards have been in use since 2006. Instead of printing and signing a paper slip to pay via card, these four-digit PIN codes are entered into a point of sale machine.

This was once considered to be a quick and easy way for payment to be made. But the need for speed has seen the introduction of new contactless technology. UK consumers can now tap their card on the POS machine to approve payments up to £30 (around $40). Without entering a code.

In contrast, the US has introduced the chips to bank cards that will enable PIN payment but PINs have not been circulated yet. This places Americans in a strange limbo between the two systems. Retailers will have to adapt their POS technology although it might be a good idea to ensure new tech can also deal with contactless payments. Because the US is also introducing contactless payments technology to speed up transactions. 

The biggest change here might not be the technology but consumer attitudes, as Jon notes: “I remember going back to the UK and feeling really nervous about tapping my card to pay £5. We’ll have the same cultural challenge in the US. The question is, what can we do as technology providers and retail partners to help customers past these concerns?”

The US Leads the Way On Mobile-Enabled Hospitality

It’s no surprise that the US leads the UK when it comes to service. One of the latest retail technology trends is that American airports are filling every spare space with a workspace complete with ipad. This enables customers to order food or drink from any establishment they want. “In contrast, it’s difficult to even find a charging socket in the UK,” says Jon. 

This tech replaces waiting staff with servers who only need to bring food to the tables. Which is much faster for consumers who don’t want to wait in these circumstances. As Jon notes: “Travellers can now make the most of the 20 minutes before their flight by answering emails while they eat a sandwich. Rather than walking out of a restaurant because the service is too slow.” 

And it’s not just US airports that are using technology to fast-track and enhance customer service. American hotels are also using geo-tracking and mobile technology to enable customers to open their bedroom door with their cellphones. A smoother, faster check-in experience that meets customer expectations.

Taking Distribution to New Levels

The US is leading the way on rapid distribution with one-hour delivery for certain items from Amazon. “This is quite a feat because the country is so big,” says Jon. “Amazon does a really clever job of matching demand to availability using analytics to understand what consumers are likely to want. Supported by slick warehouse systems so items get out the door fast.” 

Amazon are also entering the food retail market posing a major threat to other grocery retailers. Here too they’re taking service to new levels. Using mobile phone cameras combined with online technology and home entry systems, delivery drivers can enter your home and pack your food items in your fridge while you’re out. 

This is one of the future retail technology trends that could become the new way we shop in the US, the UK and beyond. 

Change and People Management Key to Retail Success

Technology and operations will continue to advance in response to consumer expectations in the UK and US. As a result, retailers are scrambling to provide faster, more convenient service that moves their brand from an inventory-led environment to something more frictionless and experiential. 

Although enhanced customer experience relies on a range of technology – including POS and mobile backed up by cloud-based systems – customer experience also relies on human interaction. And technology can also help here. 

Workforce transformation, human capital management, robotics, ML and AI in business will all help retailers improve productivity and reduce the need for employees to carry out basic, repetitive tasks. Creating more time for people to provide better customer service.

However, this also brings hurdles that retailers will need to overcome: “If you’re a $64b retailer who’s been working in a particular way for 40 years, upskilling part-time staff from carrying out basic tasks to more customer-centric, experiential work is a challenge,” says Jon.

“Introducing new technology requires a lot of change management. For example, advanced software that’s advising retailers to work in new ways means accepting technology’s insights. Retailers need to be able to convince their staff to trust what the computer says.”

Similar Countries, Same Retail Goals, Alternative Solutions

New tech is launched almost every day on both sides of the pond. With a focus on fulfilling consumer expectations and needs, future retail technology trends will support speed, right-first-time service and a stand-out experience for modern customers. 

With different contexts but shared consumer values, it’s likely that retail technology trends will continue down similar but also slightly different paths in the UK and US. Paths that could lead consumers and retailers alike to a dramatically different retail future.

By continuing to share insight and knowledge, every country can learn from each other. Or you could partner with a leading global retail technology consultancy to gain the insight and confidence to move forward and deliver for your consumers.

Ensure your retail business is future-fit. Book a health check on your in-store systems today.

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