The six words that made IRCE 2017 memorable

Andrew Busby, CEO of Retail Reflections and an IBM Futurist, gives his final thoughts on the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2017

Last month I attended the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago – a fantastic gathering of retailers, vendors, analysts…….and IBM Futurists – there to see for ourselves the state of the nation in internet retailing and how cognitive technologies such as Watson can make all the difference for retailers.
Two days of great sessions, debate and exhibition later and the message was clear.To succeed in the ever more demanding consumer world of today – and more importantly tomorrow – customer experience is everything. But we’ve all heard that many time before right?Well yes, but this was in a different context. The context of the consumer.Brands no longer own their own brand.The consumer does.Content and context are king. Engagement and experience the foundation upon which all else is built.Retail is truly experiencing a seminal moment in history and those who realise and recognise this will be the ones who survive.So, what were the six words which resonated at IRCE and which made it memorable?
FunYes, whatever you do, it’s important to have fun and have a sense of fun. Be fun to deal with and ensure that this is what your brand stands for. Have fun internally and this will permeate through to your customers. And what’s more – they will appreciate it.For a sense of fun, Spanish children’s retailer Imaginarium is a great example. Their stores don’t have doors, they have archways – one large size for the adults and a much smaller one for the children. It’s all about creating a sense of fun and wonder for the children.
EngageAs in, be engaging. Consumers want and expect that special brand engagement more than ever before. After all, they own your brand and have a strong influence over it so why wouldn’t you want to engage with them on multiple levels. According to Olapic, 76% of consumers view content posted by other consumers as more honest than advertising.And in the world of fashion, Instagram, with over 700 million monthly active users, is the most popular means of engaging with such as Harrods and Burberry using it extensively to bring the catwalk right into their customers lives.
PersonaliseIn a recent Forrester Research study presented at IRCE, when asking retail execs what their number one investment priority for 2017 is, the answer was: personalisation. That one to one relationship with the consumer is still a little way off. Being able to join up all the dots and be able to pick up the ‘digital trail’ which we all leave behind us every day will be the key to being able to effectively personalise. But with over a million different home pages for different customer types, Shop Direct are doing a pretty good job.Personalisation will rapidly mature form the current retrospective ‘ambulance chasing’ into a highly sophisticated contextual method of engaging with consumers and driving conversion. 
InspireWe’ve long referred to ‘retail theatre’ and indeed there are consumer facing businesses who actively promote the concept instore of the shop floor being front of house – the stage, where the store colleagues are the actors. Restaurant and pub chain Hall & Woodhouse goes beyond this and even has a green room in each restaurant.So it follows that we seek to be inspired by our retail experiences; which is good news for the stores because only there can we feel and touch in ways that we can never do online. The two now of course co-exist – finally putting an end to the concept of omni-channel. Something which was evident at IRCE.
ExciteRetail is different to almost every other sector in that we have an emotional connection with retail brands in a way which doesn’t exist in our relationships with, say, utility companies, telcos or public services. Creating an emotional attachment and excitement around a brand is therefore central and key for retailers.New York based mattress company Casper is fast developing a cult following and excites and inspires in equal measure whilst Shoes of Prey could well be laying down the template for how we all buy our shoes in the future.
CognitiveI’ve left this to last as this is what is required in order to fully deliver all the above. That might sound like a bold statement however, cognitive technologies are set to transform retail in ways we could not have imagined until recently. The phrase ‘know your customer’ is about to take on a whole new meaning once cognitive and machine learning become part of every operation across a retail business. 1-800 Flowers in the US or North Face are two great examples where cognitive technology is driving brand engagement.Cognitive represents the most profound change in retail in over 100 years and we are just beginning the journey. A journey which will not only transform retail but also our lives. Personalisation will become true one to one relationships where our needs and wants are anticipated and goods delivered where and when we want them.Cognitive retail is an exciting prospect and IRCE 2017 gave us a glimpse of what the future has in store.