We meet in Berlin, in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate, archetype of 20th Century history, with its memories of terrible conflicts but also the place of a remarkable peace which flowered in the ruins of the grim wall. Are we still in the war of technology retail? Or are we establishing a peace where the key players across the industry lay down their arms and look for ways to collaborate, and build an enduring omnichannel retail space in Europe?
Collaboration has been an important theme of the TCG Summit in the last 5 years. It is an aspiration waiting to be turned into reality. Alessandro Stanzani of Canon gave an impassioned plea for more data sharing – he gave statistics showing that 51% of online shoppers leave the Canon website and head straight for a retailer. If the manufacturer and retailer shared this customer information, the retailer could welcome the arrival on their website with a Canon banner, prepared and ready with precious browsing information from the customer’s previous online visit. This model exists already – it is called Amazon. As Henk de Jong, EVP at Philips put it “Amazon teaches us that data sharing is an important practice which we should do.” However, the internet giant has an advantage of being an integrated company, whereas retailers and manufacturers are frenemies. They collaborate most of the time, but in those activities where they compete – manufacturer online sales being the most flagrant example – the trust disappears and the motivation to build a powerful technology ecosystem withers.
Small trust building projects is the way forward. This is the Amazon approach – innovate quickly, assess and then progress. Some retailers retort that, before they share data, they need consistent support from all suppliers. This may happen, but it won’t happen quickly enough and by that time, the innovation and acceleration which were the themes of the conference, will have eaten up more traditional retailers who have not adapted fast enough to the new realities. As Enrique Martinez, CEO of Fnac Darty said in his opening remarks “yes, there will be more consolidation of retailers in the market.”
“Let’s start with sharing product availability data,” was the suggestion of Rick Londema, SVP at Sony Europe. “By sharing data there is so much space to gain cash and optimise inventory.”
Some are already collaborating with different partners to combine datasets, as mentioned by Helmar Hipp, CEO of Cyberport, the German etailer who are “using data and algorithms to predict customer trends.”
Chen Zhang, the CTO of China’s JD.com, the third largest internet retailer in the world, stretched our horizons beyond Europe and reminded us how digitally advanced the Chinese are. He shared JD’s progress in unmanned warehouses, customised manufacturing, dynamic pricing, drones and even delivery robots. And returning to the theme of collaboration – by working closely and sharing data with Nestle, they have reduced delivery times from 5-8 days to 2-3 days and increased on-shelf availability from 73% to 95%.
As in previous years, the TCG Summit has the power to surprise, motivate and enthuse its attendees about the future of technology retail. Martin Wild, a relative newcomer to the industry (Chief Innovation Officer of MediaMarktSaturn since 2011) resonated with urgency and a call to action to innovate and accelerate. “We are just at the beginning of change – we have to be open to transform everything in order to remain relevant.” And he proceeded to show us the depth of innovation at MediaMarktSaturn – from renting products to customers as part of the shared economy and outsourcing this to a 3rd party, piloting AR (70% of customers in the pilot said they liked it and wanted more), and building collaboration with other retailers (notably Schwarz group) to invest in start-ups for smart retail technology.
The future of technology retail is indeed to innovate in order to accelerate, but also to collaborate – this means sticking to your knitting – “the biggest instore experience is through the motivation of the 6,000 people who work in Fnac now” said Enrique Martinez. But it also means investment as MediaMarktSaturn is doing, all this against a background of Amazon’s spend of $18bn on IT and $27bn on R&D, and similar or maybe even greater sums by the Chinese retailers.