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Retail Tech Chat Episode 3: Digitizing the In-Store Experience

Retail Tech Chat

The events of 2020 completely redefined the concept of the customer experience. Now when consumers venture out to a store, they expect to be rewarded with an experience that justifies the trip.

Hear how digital media plays a pivotal role in delivering this experience in this conversation between technology power couple Sarah-Jayne and Dean Gratton, and experts from Beaver Trison, a specialized retail and hospitality agency that serves companies including ODEON, IKEA, Costa, and Premier Inn.

You will discover:

  • Why customer experience is driving the success of large stores and popups alike
  • How to deliver highly targeted content that motivates purchases
  • Ways to create a seamless journey from mobile browsing to in-store offers

Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, and iHeartRadio, the Retail Tech Chat is a limited-run podcast focused on recovery of the retail and hospitality sector. Subscribe now so you don’t miss an episode!

Listen to Retail Tech Chat Episode 1: AI Innovations for the Customer Experience

Listen to Retail Tech Chat Episode 2: Touchless & RFID for Safer Stores

Listen to Retail Tech Chat Episode 4: Accelerating Digital Transformation

Listen to Retail Tech Chat Episode 5: New Roles for Digital Signage

Listen to Retail Tech Chat Episode 6: Safety, Security, & In-Store Intelligence

 

Transcript

Dean Gratton: Welcome to the Retail Check Chat, sponsored by Intel. I'm Dean Gratton.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: And I'm Sarah-Jayne Gratton.

Dean Gratton: Together we explore the world of technology and the ways it is reshaping our lives.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: In this podcast series, we are going to take you on a journey into retail innovation with Intel and its partners. Today, we're talking to Peter Critchley from Beaver Trison. Now, they're a digital agency serving the retail and hospitality sector. They deliver tailor-made solutions to amazing companies including Odeon, IKEA, Costa, and Premier Inn.

Dean Gratton: Well, basically, what does Beaver Trison do and what is your role? Actually, Trison, you pronounce it differently.

Peter Critchley: Well, sometimes we say Trison, it depends where we are. So Trison Group, which is the Spanish parent company of Beaver Trison, again, it depends on where you are, how you say it, is the Spanish number-one digital integrator in Europe and is our parent company, and provides very similar solutions to what we are, which is why that kind of buddying up happened a year ago. We, like they, provide digital platforms and customer experiences for our customers. My role has always been to work with customers and be a tech evangelist, really, if you like, and work out how to say "Yes" to their questions and the problems that they present us with, the challenges that they present us with. One of my contributions, I guess, to the group, is helping to lead…

Dean Gratton: Yeah, what is your role? Yeah.

Peter Critchley: ... the strategic role, really, of the group, in terms of the data and retail and integration and that whole kind of digitalization piece, and working with other key parts of the group and the team to make sure that what we do really is at the forefront of current digital trends, and helping our customers to get through very difficult times like this using digital platforms to service their customers.

Dean Gratton: How do you identify digital trends?

Peter Critchley: Do you know what? It's by being at the forefront of it. It's by being at the cutting edge of what's going on. It's by doing the operational elements of the work that we do. So a lot of companies will sit there and produce a product and say, "This is a product that will do X, Y or Z," and put it out on the market and sell it to people and see how they use it. We are actually delivering those solutions and platforms on behalf of our customers and we do it on a daily basis. So we feel the same operational challenges that they have and we're in almost a symbiotic relationship with them. So we're very much part of their team. So it enables us to really see where requirements are and what solutions are needed and to start thinking about how people like Intel, what their platforms can deliver to alleviate some of the challenges that people have.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah. I mean, it's been a time of tremendous challenges for so many people and, I guess, almost also a time for digital evolution in terms of the way that people are seeing how their businesses are heading and how you can assist in that. You've mentioned Intel and we'll come back to some examples of that later on. But, I mean, one big thing, digital signage, I'm hearing a lot about this lately. How do you think the role of digital signage is evolving in these times?

Peter Critchley: Sometimes it's a bit like a revolving door with digital signage. I've been in this industry since 1995 and we've been running this business since 1998, and it can be used as an equivalent to fancy print a lot of the time.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah.

Peter Critchley: Over the years, people have evolved it to become much more capable with content and video. But, truth be known, it really needs to evolve significantly now. There's only really a few players in this space who have got the pedigree to utilize the opportunities that digital surfaces present. I think the evolution of it now is towards much more intelligent digital surfaces or digital signage and using IoT, using machine learning, thinking about how it can be extremely dynamic and contextual and…

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: And personalized, I guess, Peter.

Peter Critchley: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: I mean, fixing it so that people could see what would appeal to them. Very predictive, I guess.

Peter Critchley: It's got to add value. At the end of the day, we're talking about an experience wherever you are, whether it's in retail, or cinema, or hospitality, and even more so in these times that we find ourselves in, that people are looking for experiences. The digital platforms, and screens, and LED screens, and kiosks, and signage, and whatever it clearly is, and mobile platforms, offer an opportunity to create a really joined-up customer experience.

So I think, Sarah, it's much less about digital signage these days. I'm trying to kind of train myself out of the phrase, really, because I've been saying it for so many years. But I think the risk is that if we talk about digital signage, it becomes much more about the how and not the why. Really, we should be talking about the why, as I know you guys do, because that's what this is all about. Why are we doing what we're doing? What is the best way of achieving that? Then, how do we do it? That's the technology play at the end that should be delivering on the why that we've got.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah. Yeah, that's so poignant. In fact, I mean, we'll come back to sort of the why and also the how it's going to be put over the…

Dean Gratton: Y-O-Y-O-Y spells yo-yo!

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Oh why, oh why?

Dean Gratton: Why? I don't know.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Oh why, oh why, oh why? But, no, I don't know. Did I watch it on my own? I think I watched it on my own, but we, I, was watching an episode of Black Mirror the other day, and the character in it, the woman, she was looking at a new apartment. She was looking at buying this new apartment. As she walked around, the signage, for want of a better expression, the digital signage, evolved to include her in the advertisement, so she could actually see herself living the life in this complex. Now, that's very science fiction, I know. But are we evolving towards that very personalized involvement, if you like, with the marketing itself?

Dean Gratton: Actually, Peter, with that in mind, like Sarah said, what technologies would be enabling such an experience?

Peter Critchley: I think it's a nuance, but it's an important one. I think it's less about personalization and it's more about making it feel personal. The nuances, everyone in this industry talks about Minority Report all the time. Actually, I haven't heard it for a little while, but it was almost every time you talked about personalization, Minority Report would be brought up as an example of it. That's a world that I don't think anybody wants to live in, where you've got advertising coming at you from all the sides, that knows what you like and how you like it and is trying to push you to a certain point of decision-making.

The making it feel personal is much more about relevancy. It's much more about not so much, did you search for washing machines on Google and now every time you go to any website, all you see are washing machine adverts and adverts. It's more about, are you furnishing your home? Are you looking for a new kitchen? Is this a space that you're looking to develop? So let's think about learning more about people, so that you can make the experience more personal and relevant and not annoying. There's a very fine line, isn't there…

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Oh, yes.

Peter Critchley: ... between "Really great, amazing. How did you ever know," me clicking on a button and pressing Buy, to "I hate you forever. Get out of my life."

Dean Gratton: Yeah. Get out the refund, then it [crosstalk].

Peter Critchley: Yeah, yeah. Do you know, that can be luck. It can be time and place. But we've all been in that situation where you've seen an advert for something and it's like they've read your mind and you go, "That's amazing. I absolutely have to buy this right now." So every brand is trying to get to that moment with every customer and every consumer that they're trying to engage with.

So I think the journey begins before you go anywhere near a retail store, and the retailer needs to start to think about how they can understand better the customers that are walking through the door and then address them appropriately. So the signage, the digital experience on their phone, the takeaways that they have in terms of experiences when they've left the environments, are really relevant and meaningful and reinforce the brand messaging and products that they're looking to sell in a more relevant way.

Technology that enables that is connecting apps through to store devices and to content delivery networks that will cover a broader spectrum of display methods and it's linking it to environments and preferences and colors and ensuring that people that are talking to you have an insight. I mean, people like Burberry have worked hard on that client relationship for many years and have been really honing it to a fine art. When it's done really well, it works fantastically. Digital, it provides a great platform for doing that. But we have to have a very joined-up and kind of strategic view of it from the beginning, and that brings us back to the why. So you think about those journeys and think about the user profiles and how you're going to implement that.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: That's really insightful, Peter, but also, you talk a lot about the in-store experience. I mean, how do you think shopping patterns are changing in the wake of this pandemic, if it is the wake? How do you think things are changing? Or are they moving in the right direction? Are we moving backwards? Are we moving in a different direction?

Peter Critchley: I think that the really reassuring thing is that people want to go to shops. We went through a lockdown where we weren't allowed to go out at all, really, apart from our hour of exercise, certainly in the UK. As soon as we were allowed to go to shops, there were queues. I thought that was really great.

Dean Gratton: I think you were allowed to go to the shops. I mean, to shop for the essentials, weren't we?

Peter Critchley: That's right. That's right. But as soon as you were able to go to a clothes shop like a Primark, I mean, there were massive queues outside Primark. They were wrapping around buildings. IKEA, as soon as they were allowed to open, and it was around the 4th of July or shortly before then, there were people queuing up in streams around the car parks to go and shop at IKEA. So there's a reassuring element of going to physically see a product and to engage with it and to walk away with it on that day.

Online has gone up by, it represents about 30% now, 35% of all shopping, of all retail, and it's had about a 10% boost since lockdown. But it's not replaced the retail experience, and experience is the key piece there. It's much more about experience adding value to that journey that someone's made to go to a physical space and then making it relevant and making it entertaining. This should be a joyful experience. We should be enjoying ourselves when we go shopping. Lord knows, I am not the world's best shopper. But I do like it when there's effort that has been put it. And do you know what? From my perspective, it can just be a decent chair with something engaging in front of it, whilst my hard, long-suffering wife tries on something amazing. But the truth is, is that we've got to try harder in retail, and there's a demand for it. People, they want to go in. They want to walk away with a product. If you don't have that product and yet you're promoting it in the window as part of this current season, there's not a lot of forgiveness for that.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: No, no. We actually talked about this the other day, that there's nothing worse than seeing a product online, going to the store and it's not available. Especially now, I think, when people actually go out to the High Street with more of an agenda, perhaps, because they know that perhaps they've got to have an agenda to get what they need and come back than perhaps they did before where they could just meander. I think it's become more precious, the High Street, in that they use it for what they need to use it for.

Peter Critchley: That targeted thing is absolutely true, Sarah.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Peter Critchley: I'm sure of it. I think that's a good thing for retailers, in a way, because they know that people walking through their door, the percentage of people that are going to be purchasing, potentially, is higher. There may be fewer of them, but their efforts are more rewarded for it. So I think the other thing, trends that we're going to start to see a lot more of, are the centralization around larger stores. I think that having lots of smaller stores is probably not going to persist. I think there'll be much larger experience-led locations. Whether they're out of town or city centers, I think both would apply, but there'll be investment into these bigger, I want to call them multi-flagship stores, if you want to call them that. Then pop-ups, I think, will be another trend that we'll start to see a lot more of, where there'll be focus around high activity areas or events, and brands will be using digitally enabled pop-ups to engage with people in a similar way to the way that they would at these multi-location flagships that they'll have.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: As you say, it's really about that engagement thing, isn't it? It's about entertainment, engaging, giving value to the consumers.

Dean Gratton: Yeah. What do you mean, Peter, by pop-up stores?

Peter Critchley: So there's going to be a lot of real estate that isn't going to be being used over the coming 12, 18, 24 months, and I think that there'll be certain brands that would benefit from using those for…

Dean Gratton: For brand building.

Peter Critchley: ... shortish periods of time. Picture this then, Dean, if you're thinking about winter clothing and you're a brand that makes winter clothing, you might well take over a small sub-1,000-square-foot space but put very large LED screens in maybe around the walls. You might invest in floor-based LED as well to create an immersive environment, and you won't really have a lot of stock there. You won't be selling products, per se. It'll be a brand experience which you can then lead people to, maybe it's through interactive devices or contactless engagement through eye tracking or what have you, which then is a walk-away. So it's a brand connection that then leads to a purchase either in-store, through an online purchase, or post-experience when they've followed up through the contacts by the brand.

So I think those, and those can move around. So there's been a bit of that with some of the forward-thinking brands. But I think there'll be a lot more of it now where you'll have sort of almost a roadshow but it's going pop-up to pop-up, it's spending a few weeks at a particular location. Those people that are, whether it's in Soho, or North London, or in Manchester, or Paris, or New York, those locations are going to have people with disposable income still, that are looking to engage and are looking to have these brand experiences. But it's going to be more challenged. So I think that's the rethink that I think is coming, which digital is going to play a key part in.

Dean Gratton: You mentioned eye tracking, and of course, that leads on to facial recognition. Of course, that brings us to the subject of artificial intelligence, which I think for most people is quite a scary subject. I mean, what are the differences between the eye tracking and facial recognition? I think we already touched upon, in another discussion, about GDPR and the sensitivities around that topic and the fact that you're tracking people’s faces, where they're looking, what they're seeing, what they might be interested in, and how you target products to them with that technology. How does that work out?

Peter Critchley: There's a clear line between the two. So facial scans…

Dean Gratton: There's a lot of questions in this one question. Sorry.

Peter Critchley: That's okay. No, no. They all tie together and, to be honest with you, you're saying what everyone thinks, really, because it is quite confusing. Technology, when you're looking at a camera, you have no idea if it's a facial recognition camera. Or it is it a facial analytics camera? The difference between the two is the storage of your personal data, so your image, and then tying that to your personal data, so name, date of birth, etc. So typically associated with the police in the UK or other government organizations and, of course, widely used in countries like China and used both by state actors and also by brands and airports and similar to enable a richer environment. So it's an area which has a lot of positives and potential negatives and there's a lot of people that talk very passionately on both sides.

Facial analytics is where we tend to play. Facial analytics is anonymous because we're not storing any images at all, although it's a camera. It's often referred to as computer vision. So computer vision is using a camera to show you something and then the computer analyzes it and turns that into data. So it compares you to a data model, your face to a data model, and then it will assign gender, age, emotion, state, and various other things. These models are pretty accurate these days. The technology has been around for 15, 20 years now. Intel OpenVINO is a platform that we use for this technology. It enables a very rich environment for you to understand who, in broad generalized groups, you're looking at, and also the numbers that you're looking at.

Then within that sort of one anonymized face you have a pair of eyes which will be looking left or right, or up or down, and dwelling in a certain place, and you also have a face, which is turning left, right. So you can use that data to give you an insight into where people are, what they're doing, how long they're looking at something for, what attention you get physically with the eyes on the content or the area in-store. You can use this to align it with digital campaigns that are being shown, or indeed, you can apply it in an analog world where you might have a wall of shoes and you could determine which shoes get the most attention from people that are stood in the vicinity.

Dean Gratton: Peter. Sorry, Peter. If you are tracking people's eyes, what they're looking at and whatnot, and you're not storing that data, then how do you build up a model of a consumer's experiences and whatnot so you can actually perhaps target products more effectively?

Peter Critchley: Right. So, you are storing it and you are aligning it to a person. So there is a person, they're just not personalized in that process. So in this anonymized world of facial analytics or facial detection, you're not assigning that to an individual, but you are assigning it to a person. So you know that a person, a male, 42 years old, stood in front of this space and looked at four different sets of shoes and dwelled particularly on the Nike and then turned right. So, that's an experience that that person had. If they turned right, the chances are that they were going off to this area.

We are also working on connecting, and this is where machine learning comes in, where you start connecting those anonymous journeys, but you can connect the chances of a 42-year-old male that you've just literally measured in the shoe section, and three seconds later he falls into the camera detection area for the till. It's likely that it's the same person. The chances are pretty good. So those are the kind of processes that you can start to build up. It's great for brands because they don't have to think about GDPR. They don't have to worry about the potential pushback from customers. There are opportunities to then tie that into a more personalized experience. So you can, for example, have a screen that people are looking at and engaging with and present a QR code that would then tie you into an app. So the app experience could then link you. Then suddenly you can tie what they were doing and looking at to the actual person. So you can then personalize that experience further, obviously with their permission.

One of the things that this industry, our industry, has to do better is tell people what we're doing. We have to explain it to people, say, "This is what we're doing and this is how it works. This is the benefit to you." Because there is a lot of mistrust of technology. This industry has to work harder at building trust before there's an expose by Panorama or whoever it'd be. There's no reason why we shouldn't be telling people what we're doing because it's actually for everyone's benefit.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah, yeah. I think that's a really important point.

Dean Gratton: Education, isn't it?

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah.

Dean Gratton: It's to make people aware of what's happening and why we're doing it.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: It's educating people that it's not a Big Brother thing, it's actually about making sure that their needs are catered for, that we're providing the best service that we possibly can in that environment.

Peter Critchley: Absolutely.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: So everything is leading back to them in terms of value. I think, yeah [crosstalk].

Peter Critchley: And it ties back, doesn't it?

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Peter Critchley: It ties back to that experience that I was saying where you saw something that was so right for you, you just had to have it. It was exactly what you were looking for. That's got to be the panacea of retail, hasn't it?

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah. Absolutely.

Peter Critchley: For all of us. We want to go shopping and see things that we love everywhere we go. And…

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: It's virtual mind reading and I love that. If people realized this was being done to make their lives easier, rather than this kind of conspiracy theory that is kind of woven into the media that just draws upon hyperbole of a negative nature, I think people would go, "Wow. Actually, yeah. We actually love what you're doing for us."

Peter Critchley: Did you know, Sarah, about, I think it was last year, maybe it was a year and a half ago, but anyway, I spoke to this journalist from The Sunday Times? He wanted to talk about this technology. He wanted to talk about cameras and how it works and everything. So I had a chat with him and I was telling him all this stuff that I'm telling you. We were talking about personalization and all he was trying to do is spin it around to "But what about if it sees children? What does that mean?"

Dean Gratton: Oh, dear.

Peter Critchley: You're like, "Well, it will see children and it will record them as children." "But is it recording pictures of children?" I'm like, "Well, no, it's not." But I guess people are concerned about that. But, yeah, I get it. But there is a real kind of desire, especially in the media, to portray this as something that is nefarious and dangerous and is going to infringe your personal liberty. It's not, of course. I mean, listen, in the wrong hands, it definitely would be, but we're part and parcel of an industry that is responsible for and it cares passionately about improving experiences for people and enhancing the experiences that people have. It's not in our interest to drive anything that does challenge or complicate that in any way.

But I can see how the advertising side of it could get a bit interesting if you were starting to record images and start to... There was, back in, I think it was about three or four years ago, there was an oil company that used a automatic numberplate recognition system hooked into the DVLA system. They had a camera set up on a digital billboard in West London and as your car approached, it would say, "Hey, Mr. Mercedes Driver, you need this oil for your car." They did a better job than that because there was a marketing team that actually was behind it and didn't actually do it like that, because that wouldn't work. But you see what I mean? They were using this data and there was a bit of an uproar about it because they shouldn't be using the DVLA database to then advertise to people in that way. That's where that can complicate the picture because people see those kinds of abuses of data and have an issue with it, rightly.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah. As you rightly said before, it's such a fine line, isn't it? That your sort of case studies history and the way that you support brands. I really admire companies such as yourselves that really act for the consumer but actually support brands in a way that really allows them to shine. Kind of going back to the Intel thing, one thing I would like to ask you about, because I think this sounds really cool being a coffee lover myself, is that you supported Intel at this year's ISE in Amsterdam. I think it was back in February before the lockdown, wasn't it?

Peter Critchley: Just before, yeah.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah, just before. And you created this kind of mock coffee shop. I just want to hear more about that because that's right up my street.

Peter Critchley: It was a demonstration of how you can utilize technology to create a more personal experience within a coffee shop. It was simple in its execution, but the way we did it was engaging. It was a good example of how content is really crucial in this. I mean, we spent a lot of time talking about data and experiences and journeys, but you know what? Content is the thing that really connects people to those experiences. With Intel, we developed a superhero theme…

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah, yeah, that's great.

Peter Critchley: ... for the coffee shop environment. And so there's an interactive kiosk where you would go and order your coffee, place your order and type in your name. When it was ready, the barista would tap an iPad and just, he'd see those orders on his iPad, obviously, and he'd be then creating those drinks, and tap the name that was on the iPad. Then there'd be a whole little content show that drove an experience for the customer, which would bring their name up and, depending on the coffee that they'd selected, it would have that character. We were logging all of the data for that as well, so we were able to feedback to Intel or, let's say, the coffee shop in this case, the dwell time that people had, which screens they were looking at, which animations worked better and which ones made people happier. So there was a little data story behind that as a little proof of concept of how it all works.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: I love that. I love that idea. It's just a really nice little example of how what you're doing can kind of bring a sort of…

Peter Critchley: A smile, right?

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: And bring you a little entertainment into ordering a coffee, which I love.

Peter Critchley: Yeah. I think it comes back to a maxim which we have, which is "Measure, measure, measure." You've got to measure what's going on because if you don't understand the space, the problem, how can you engage with it and fix it? There's so much of that needed at the moment with environments that brands are operating, wherever they may be, that there's opportunities to measure using inexpensive equipment to really understand what people are doing in the spaces. Because, the truth be known, there's not been that much of an imperative to do it until now.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: No.

Peter Critchley: Because times, they haven't been amazing, but they've not been terrible either. So brands have been able to focus on other things. But there is an opportunity at the moment to really kind of get down and dirty with the data of who, where, when, in terms of what people are doing to engage.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: I think, yeah, that's such a great summary of it all because it's all about what we do, isn't it, every day that gives us that perfect retail experience, gives us that perfect going there, coming back and going, "Wow, that was amazing"? And all the things that you're building in to creating this perfect insight are looking to the future to make this retail experience something that, albeit, may be brief in the future because we may have to curtail our time out. I'm sure, over the years, things will change. But right now, time is valuable and time out is basically a holiday for a lot of people, isn't it?

Dean Gratton: I mean, it is. We talk about post-COVID. And, well, what's going on at the moment, I'm not quite sure post-COVID would exist, well, for now, in the foreseeable future.

Peter Critchley: Yeah, yeah. I think you're right, Dean.

Dean Gratton: Yeah, this could be lingering around for some time, this COVID malarkey.

Peter Critchley: I never liked "new normal," really. I was never a big fan of the phrase because it felt to me like it was better to say "next," because really, I think there was pre-COVID and then there's life after COVID, right?

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah.

Peter Critchley: The whole retail landscape will be completely different because those people, like my mum, that never really engaged too much with Amazon or really engaged too much with online delivery, suddenly have discovered it's really not that hard and, actually, it's pretty good and "Do you know what? Amazon are pretty good at this." They've sussed it out. "Actually, I can get what I want from Ocado. This is incredible." That won't go away.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Oh, no.

Peter Critchley: That's why Ocado's stock value has doubled in the past six months and it's why it will continue to grow. So the people, the businesses, the operators, the brands that have recognized that it's not going to be the same, people have changed, their perceptions of where risk lies has changed, their demands and expectations within retail have changed and the products that they want to engage with and buy haven't changed enormously, but the way that they do it has. So there's loads of opportunity and you'll see that playing out, I'm sure, through those that survive and those that struggle to make it through the next sort of difficult days that are ahead for retail.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Well, I think there's also…

Peter Critchley: But there's plenty that can do it.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: A great point you made there, Peter, in that. I mean, talk about this being a learning curve for some of the elderly, Peter. That, actually, it's enabling them to have more everyday connectivity to people and services than they would normally have anyway. So without backtracking on the retail experience, which is wonderful, in a sense, technology and this connectively gives something for all, doesn't it?

Peter Critchley: There was a big kind of inflection point with iPads and iPhone, obviously, but iPads especially. When the iPad came out, I remember very clearly people saying, "What's the point of that? It's just a big phone. Why would you buy one of those? I've got an iPhone already." I heard that over and over and over again. And do you know what? That thing has been so successful.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Oh, God.

Peter Critchley: It's changed everything. Suddenly, people realized, "This is transformational. This has changed how I connect with content from all the brands and media providers that I'm used to." And we've never looked back since. The same is true, I think, at the moment, with digital and retail. I think there are opportunities for brands to really connect with the online experience and take it to the offline environment and to really properly engage with that.

We've done work with Made.com and others like Fujifilm and brought them into a space where their online experiences are now an intrinsic part of the offline spaces that they operate in, and turn them into a truly engaging, connected space that feels very dynamic. That, I think, is where the digitalization of our lives has taken them significantly forward. That's going to need to be reflected in, let's face it, the lagging behind that we've seen in a lot of the High Street and the resistance to it. "It's an expense. It's a cost." It's not, actually. There's a significant return on investment from it if you do it the right way, and that's the crucial bit, right, if you do it the right way.

Dean Gratton: The thing is, for me, IoT's more than just one specific application because the IoT is a large concept where multiple things are connected and from your perspective with digital signage, how is that working out as a concept? And how are you manifesting it in the real world?

Peter Critchley: We're seeing a trend, clearly, within retailers to engage with that. Some of them have been using these systems, whether it's RFID or other technologies, for a long time. The customer-facing side of IoT has been a little slower, I think, to engage. It's, to be honest with you, partly because it's probably quite technical. There's a lot of complexity to doing it the right way and to making sure that these systems do talk to each other correctly and that the experience is repeatable and consistent and enjoyable.

So we're seeing this year, really, and it is now about this year, trends towards really thinking about connecting U-POS systems and making them drive a broader story through IoT. So whether that's going to be stock availability and how that changes the mix of content on digital surfaces, or whether you're thinking about how, if a customer is looking at a particular product, and we're going back to the OpenVINO piece here, maybe that illuminates using DMX-controlled lighting that's controlled through EdgeX equipment.

So all of those sort of very subtle but important connections that make you feel better and engage you with the space that you're in, I think are becoming really practical and usable for retailers. I can't see a downside to that, really. I think it's just going to be a much more interesting experience when you go shopping, or when you go to the cinema, or when you go out into hospitality environments and hotels, because it will feel much more exciting and, let's face it, futuristic, which, it's what excites me, right?

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah.

Dean Gratton: Yes, and seamless and transparent, because ultimately with new technology for the consumer, you shouldn't know it's there. It should just be seamless, transparent, you just enjoy the experience.

Peter Critchley: That's really hard to achieve, isn't it? That frictionless experience, that seamless engagement, that kind of technology…

Dean Gratton: Let's work on that.

Peter Critchley: ... that just talks to itself and works every time. I mean, that is tough. I think when it's achieved, people don't notice it and that's absolutely the Apple way.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Absolutely.

Peter Critchley: This is technology that's highly complex and very finely tuned and yet it feels like it just does what you want it to do all the time.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: It's just there. It can become so integral to an experience that people take it for granted. That is the ultimate compliment, really.

Dean Gratton: Absolutely, yeah. Absolutely.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Because it's literally there, you don't think about it. You turn on a tap, you get water. You don't really want to know where it comes from. You don't. You just have water. You walk in…

Peter Critchley: You don't need to know, do you?

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: No.

Peter Critchley: You just don't need to know. It's not important. It's not relevant to me how the iPhone processes the data and ends up showing me the right weather forecast. I just like the way it does it and that's nice.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: It just does it. Poof.

Peter Critchley: It's the same with getting in a car. I mean, to be honest with you, I've never really truly understood how cars work anyway. So I drive an electric car these days and that's far simpler to understand. It's just a motor. Great. Perfect. I think, I've been sitting here listening to you guys, it's reminded me of my wife and I, especially through lockdown, we've been talking about how when we're in the same space, let's put the phones down. Let's not be on the devices, the glowing box, and let's make sure we are communicating and not being absent. That's…

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: I think that's so important.

Peter Critchley: It is, it's truly important. The digital retail environment is not about in your face. It goes back to what I was saying about, it feels personal, but it's not personalized. So it's not trying to address me and say, "Hey, Peter. This is what you'd love. This is great for you." What it is doing, though, is in my periphery, it's showing me things that I'm interested in, but it's not driving me and saying, "You've got to look at this. This is amazing. This is for you." It's this call to the space and the physical that's very attractive that makes people go to these retail spaces. The way that digital works needs to be seamless, frictionless, not in your face, quite subtle and engaging, but in a non-confrontational way. That's where you'll get brand engagement on a level that is meaningful, I think, and…

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Well, that's [crosstalk].

Peter Critchley: ... very hard to achieve.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: ... rather than a huge bellow in front of you, it's a gentle whisper in your ear.

Peter Critchley: Got it, right.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: I think…

Dean Gratton: When we achieve that, then that's perfection.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Well, yeah, that's where we're heading. Peter, we have loved talking to you. It has been amazing.

Peter Critchley: Oh, likewise. It's been great.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: I can't believe our time has flown by because we've had a great conversation, albeit it was [crosstalk].

Peter Critchley: It's been such fun.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: That's it. Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode.

Dean Gratton: If you've enjoyed this podcast, you can find out more about retail innovation at insight.tech.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: On behalf of Intel, this has been Sarah-Jayne.

Dean Gratton: And Dean Gratton. Until next time.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Until next time.

About the Author

Kenton Williston is the Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech and served as the editor of its predecessor publication, the Embedded Innovator magazine. Kenton received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2000 and has been writing about embedded computing and IoT ever since.

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