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Retail Innovation: Past, Present…and Future


David Atkins foreword to retail report

 I’m delighted to present the findings of our 2017 retail and consumer research report, which seeks to uncover the ways in which technology and innovation have been shaping the retail industry throughout recent decades.  This marks not only our fifth annual report in partnership with retail specialists, Global Data, but also Hammerson’s 75th anniversary, celebrating the dynamism and diversity of our ever-evolving sector.

Whilst the rise of technology is often characterised as a relatively recent phenomenon, our research demonstrates that innovation has been disrupting and shaping the retail industry for decades.  Advancements in the motor industry and the democratisation of household appliances such as refrigerators, for example, are emblematic of some of the most significant catalysts for change in the retail industry in the Twentieth Century.

Fast forward to recent years and it’s clear that the growth of technology has shifted up a gear.  But our research, which includes insight from major retailers John Lewis and Debenhams, demonstrates that innovation has benefitted both consumers and retailers.  The rapid adoption of mobile technology has empowered consumers, providing instant access to price and product information, crucially enabling more informed purchasing decisions.  And the adoption of technology both in-store and online has enabled retailers to improve business efficiency, manage stock and gain greater insight into how customers want to shop.

Neither the consumers we polled nor our retailers seemed willing to commit to some of the emerging technologies that more niche brands are experimenting with.  Drones, 3D printing and haptic technology may well find a role in the shopping journey of the future, but for now the focus is very much on technology that adds real and tangible value.

Encouragingly, both brands and customers still see the physical store as central to the retail experience.  Indeed, our retailers emphatically agreed that the store portfolio will remain a fundamental part of their strategy in the future, with John Lewis viewing its shops as the ‘tangible manifestation of its brand’.  And with Global Data research indicating that 87% of non-grocery retail is influenced by a store, it seems evident that technology is not the enemy at the gate, but rather an opportunity for landlords and retailers to embrace.