4 Key Takeaways from Wired Retail 2015

Last week, our London team attended the Wired Retail 2015 conference. Delivery challenges, making shopping for fashion online a better experience and new technologies in retail were among the themes covered by speakers. Here are 4 key takeaways that we picked up on:

1. Meeting the Delivery Challenges of E-Commerce

The explosion in online shopping has created a boom in home delivery, and we heard from three companies that are trying to revolutionize delivery of packages to consumers.

Uber is best known for providing taxi rides, but its new UberRUSH service aims to bring similar convenience and affordability to the home delivery of goods. Around 30% of consumers’ trips are to pick something up, Jo Bertram from Uber told us, and UberRUSH can save consumers this effort.

Starship Technologies, an Estonian firm, unveiled its small, land-based delivery robot, promising to “do to delivery what Skype did to telecoms.” The firm’s sidewalk-based automobiles can deliver within a 1–2 mile radius within about 15–20 minutes per round trip. The company expects to launch the robots in the UK in the second quarter of 2016.

Lastly, from Israel, Flytrex emphasized the delivery opportunities presented by drones, claiming that drone delivery in London could be a reality in as little as five years. Yariv Bash from Flytrex noted some of the hurdles that need to be overcome, as the “last-mile problem” becomes the “last-meter problem.” Landing spaces are a key barrier, but Bash predicted that, just as parking spaces have become essential to new buildings and public spaces, so, too, will drone landing spaces.

2. Zalando Aims to Become “the Operating System of the Fashion World”

Zalando was among the big names we heard from at Wired Retail. Robert Gentz, cofounder and Chief Executive, outlined how the company has taken learnings from e-commerce in China back to Europe, and how it aims to become what he termed “the operating system of the fashion world.”

The e-commerce consumer experience is “far better” in China than in Europe, Gentz said, noting the focus on multibrand portals such as Tmall in China versus stand-alone retail sites in Europe; the mass, rapid fulfillment of orders from stores for multi-channel retailers in China; and the customer service offered on WeChat, a Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp.

Zalando is attempting to import this ethos to Europe, to enable shoppers to find a product from multiple brands, get the right color and fit, and access the product quickly.

3. Cool Technologies that May Impact Retail

At FBIC Global Retail & Technology, we extensively cover the cutting-edge tech that can impact retail, and we were interested to hear from representatives of three companies on subjects that we have reported on before: wearable technologies, virtual reality and 3D printing.

On wearables, Billie Whitehouse from fashion firm Wearable Experiments showed us her Navigate jacket, designed to guide visitors to their preset destination in a city by “tapping” them on the relevant shoulder to tell them when to take a turn. Whitehouse’s key message was that companies must “design for the human experience first”—do not begin with the technology.

Henry Stuart from virtual reality (VR) production company Visualise took us on a tour through the current state of VR and its applications in retail. VR will be a $30 billion industry by 2020, according to forecasts mentioned by Stuart, and in 2017, some 12 million VR headsets are expected to be sold.

In retail, VR’s strength is its power to emotionally connect people and so add excitement. Current users include UK travel agent Thomas Cook, which allows customers to “try before they buy.” The company has seen a 190% increase in bookings when customers “visit” a destination using VR. Future uses could be virtual stores that offer a tailored, VIP shopping experience.

Bram de Zwart from 3D print shop retailer 3D Hubs wrapped up the trilogy of disruptive technology talks. 3D printing could revolutionize retail, de Zwart said, in part because it will make carrying huge levels of inventory much less necessary. In the future, more products will be made locally and on demand. De Zwart estimated that in 10 years’ time, some 10% of consumer products will be made by 3D printing—that is 10% of a $4 trillion market.

4. New Tech for Analysis

New technologies are not just for consumers. Analysts can have their share of the fun, too. We heard from two firms that offer new opportunities to analyze consumer behavior or consumer demand using fresh tech.

Emotient: This company records consumers on video—either individually or in crowds—and analyzes their facial responses for signs, such as positive and negative emotions and engagement with advertising. It can offer demographic analysis of crowds, too, providing opportunities for sporting events to tailor advertising, for instance.

Orbital Insight: Using a new generation of cheaper, smaller satellites, this company offers comprehensive, detailed aerial photography. For retail and property firms, this can be used as a kind of footfall measurement tool, recording the number (and location) of cars in parking lots. Orbital Insight says its parking lot data can accurately reflect retail sales data, offering opportunities for analysts to forecast via this footfall proxy.