Innovate like a shoplifter: Co-op IT specialist

Get shoppers off their rails and try to match a shoplifter’s retail experience - two nuggets of wisdom shared at yesterday’s Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE).

The latter came from Co-operative’s retail IT solutions specialist Paul Fletcher, who came up with the analogy while working on the supermarket chain’s new Pay in Aisle app.

“The challenge was to try and match the experience of a shoplifter, as they probably have the most frictionless journeys in one of our stores, they come in and grab what they want off the shelves and then run out of the door,” he explained.

The app is currently being trialled at the company’s Manchester headquarters, which Fletcher admitted wasn’t ideal, as it’s a unique but closed loop. “We do need to put it in a real world situation and that is probably the next stage, along with having some professional research done.”

Customers are able to scan products as they walk around the store and pay with the click of a single button. Co-op is still working on ways to make customers feel more comfortable when using it, as well as introducing personalised offers based on previous shopping history and where they are in store.

Staying with the shoplifting theme, Fletcher said that people were unsure whether they had paid before walking out, something akin to the advent of self-checkout. “It was very interesting to watch customer behaviour, the psychology was remarkable, because people literally did not know what to do.

“There are things we can do to help, one of them was to introduce a big green tick with an e-receipt so if you are challenged you can prove the purchase very quickly,” he added.

In another RBTE session, Hammerson’s head of customer experience Kathryn Malloch said her starting position for technology development was the realisation that many customers using the company’s shopping centres are effectively ‘on rails’.

“They park in the same location, they take the same route around the mall and only visit four or five retailers, so we knew that was a challenge for our retailers,” she stated. “From a customer point of view you’re getting a really different physical experience from what you are getting online.”

With this insight, Hammerson began developing a visual search app called Style Seeker, which lets shoppers to take a picture of a piece of clothing and discover similar alternatives at physical outlets.

The app is still in the pilot stage, but early signs have been promising, according to Malloch, who added that the business has relied heavily on outsourced expertise to build the technology.

This was an approach at odds with fellow panel member Dinis Cruz, the chief information security officer at Photobox, who admitted that while it was hard to find the right talent to do things in-house, “there is so much empowerment with technology if you get it right”.

He concluded: “If in 2018 you still need to make the business case for technology investment then the people above you need to be replaced.”

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