Ten predictions for IT developments in retail, during 2019…..

Hands up ! These are all US based and originate from the Forbes Technology Council . However, their development will , for the most part, impact way beyond the shores of the ‘Good old US of A ‘.

1. Voice shopping in cars. This does not mean lowering your windows and some ‘geezer’ at a set of tragic lights trying to flog you a bottle of coke. Most new cars are now sold with installed apps allowing you to use functions such as Amazon’s Alexa. There is the likely suggestion that in America, billboards will start displaying ads prompting you to scream at your dashboard and the item of your dreams will be delivered by the time you get home .

2. The return on investment for AI investment can be clearly understood. Now I am not entirely sure I understand the statement let alone the concept. Probably the best way to explain it , is from a site called http://www.kidbox.com. They sell boxes of kids clothes. You complete a ‘quiz’ , select a price and they send you a box of kids clothes and you pay for what you keep. Now the key is the quiz. It is a series of questions that help them decide what you may like . The secret here is not a group of kid box employees sitting down and deciding the answers to the quiz that child in question would like to wear Harry Potter hats and pink trainers . The results are determined by artificial intelligence.

3. Computer vision may move to less exciting parts of retail. Computer vision is the ability of computers to see images in much the same way as humans. An unpleasant thought, if you took it literally, such as when you walk into the store cctv blares out …

Oy! you ugly git, you are wearing one lousy shirt go to aisle 4 and caste your eyes on these beauts’

But it is not that far removed. A confectionary store in the States called Lolli & Pops, uses facial recognition to recognise loyalty customers when they walk into the store. Amazon Go takes images of products put into the basket of consumers in store and avoids the need of a check out . Then there is the tracking of footfall in store , seeing the pathways and actions of their customers. There is a whole lot more involved, but I think it paints its ‘own picture’.

4. Direct to consumers growth maybe muted. This is something that most can relate to and that is a brand selling directly to the consumer. The brands are finding it increasingly costly to find and maintain the channel to the consumer. It is an area that I know most retailers of both types, online and high street and increasingly wary of. That is to say suppliers going directly to the consumer. So, maybe, there is a shaft of light here.

5. Instagram could challenge Amazon’s dominance on mobile shopping. In the States Amazon has 140 million followers whilst Instagram has 100 million and they are about to launch their own shopping app. I can understand the theory because of Instagram’s influence on the consumer but I can’t say I completely agree with the analysis. For starters, Instagram does not have the infrastructure. It does not have the database (twenty years of Amazon trading) and quite simply I don’t think it has the comparable knowledge. Maybe in five years but not in 2019.

6. Cross border commerce may no longer be a choice . I think this heading is slightly counter intuitive. It means that because so much trading is done cross border. It cites Amazon once again , where their revenues cross border have increased by over 50% in the last two years. The suggestion is that all online operators must consider their cross border activities. To be really frightened, just examine how much product via Amazon is sold into Europe directly from China (over 40%).

7. Social media platforms could become e-commerce platforms. This is already happening, so I am not sure why this is such significant development. Yes, they have huge numbers (instagrams 1 billion active users) and yes they they may well take small slices from the likes of Amazon, but they don’t have the structures, as already but more significantly they don’t have the data and analytics that Amazon has accrued over the last twenty years.

8. Click and collect will come of age. This an economics issue. The cost of delivery is increasing and eats into margins particularly if the first delivery fails. Retailers will focus on increasing their ratio of clicking and collecting.

9. Independent subscription continue to lose subscribers. Well this comes as no surprise . Apparently the fall off rate is 40% within the first year. This is where you you give a load of dosh every month and you get a free razor and a bit of shaving gel. Or a ‘surprise box’ of organic veg , a good chunk of which gets chucked away . Personally, I have thought for some time , or ever since we were offered a fresh flower subscription of about £12 a week (£500 p.a.!) that this was an unsustainable model. Well it seems to be panning out that way .

10. The aisle could become more interactive. This comes as no surprise. It will enable retailers to become interactive and enhancing the ‘retail experience ‘. It will also involve the tightening of the online/offline experience.

Me thinks Forbes set their ‘technical council’ a brief of a list of ten and they started to struggle at nine and ten as they aren’t uniquely technological . Eight looks a bit like a combination of two and three. That said some might thing all these bear no relation to their own business. This is clearly not true , as they may be techniques that are not within your budget but they are all developments that will affect your business. If we don’t see them coming we won’t know what’s just smacked us in the face.

Where are the Leaders when we need ‘em ?

Churchill, Corbyn, Thatcher, Stalin, Napoleon, Philip Green, Beckham, Gandhi, Pol Pot, Che Guevara, Ernest Shackleton, all have something in common. In some form or other, or by someone or another,they have been seen as leaders.

I suggest that there are three types of ‘leaders’

1. Those that are appointed, anointed or elected eg heads of state, heads of organisations.

2. Those that inherit eg natural progression through an organisation.

3. Those that have carved their way through an organisation, such as by dint of personality ,and wisdom or other ‘personal combinations’ like personality and violence.

Anyone who goes on a course to learn leadership skills may in some quarters be defined as a leader. But, in my book, this does not qualify anyone as a leader anymore than someone who goes on a language course automatically becoming a linguist.

There are no doubt other types but I reckon that in general they are just subsections of the above.

If you ‘win’ a war but loose an election. If you are successful with one football club but not another. If you have been involved in a number of bankruptcies and then a successful venture does it make you any the less a leader?

Captains of industry, is a term often used to refer to the head honchos of major businesses. But I am not convinced this immediately makes them Leaders. I cannot consider that the likes of Philip Green is to be defined as a leader ( I will not apologise for not using his correct title, cos I don’t think it is his correct title). Some would argue he created a successful organisation employing thousands of people . I propose he created a vehicle to make as much dosh as possible. Nothing wrong with that. The acid test would be how many of his employees would follow him out of the trenches.

Politics is littered with the term ‘leader’. Leader of the opposition, leader of this group or that group, leader of the house, leader of a party, suggesting that most politicians are a leader of some sort. Whereas the truth lies nearer that very few of them are not, and those that have a variation of the title are there by a convoluted electoral process, including in some cases nobody actually wanting to do the job as it is toxic.

The media revels in headlines concerning weak or strong leaders without reference to the circumstances or the relative strength or weakness of the organisation they lead .

It’s unlikely that Alex Ferguson would have been a great leader of Southend United. Gandhi is unlikely to have created such a massive following if he had been brought up in Ireland. Bill Gates might never have created any empire if his parents had been farmers.

Some leaders are undoubtedly ‘born leaders’ . The likes of Genghis Khan, who was born to a family of leaders. Of course, he lead by fear, yet, according to historians, he was respected and those that who followed him, including the conquered, were well rewarded. The term ‘captains of industry’ was first used in the USA in the 19th century . It referred to commercial success but also philanthropy and attitude to the workforce . Latterly the term has been hijacked for those who only tick the commercial success box . For Captains of industry read more Bill Gates than Phillip Green (more robber baron, and that’s being very polite). I am not just picking on him, but he is very easy pickings.

‘Great’ leaders, such as Gandhi, Mandela, Napoleon, Churchill and Lincoln, were also seriously flawed. But often it is the flaw or flaws that make them ‘great’ in their time. Whether stubborn, vain, or just very focused, whatever their belief they were able to convince large numbers with similar beliefs that their path was the one to follow, and were the ones to follow .

I would suggest that the world’s current turmoil is aligned with a lack of leadership in many fields, industry, arts and media, spiritual guidance, and sport. Of course there are highly successful individuals in all walks of life but there are very few(currently I can’t think of any ) that large chunks of society would see as a true ‘leader ‘. So I can’t even begin to define something that currently does not exist in its true form. However, I feel that is, also, very disingenuous. I think there are many out there who are true leaders but operate in micro scenarios whether it is the coach of some local kids football team, or the manager of a small department in a large organisation, the leader of a local church, temple or mosque. These, and many others, are leaders who inspire and nurture those they lead. But they all keep their heads below the parapet. Society needs leaders that can be seen, in order to be inspired and nurtured, but I can’t see any…..

“Where have all the ‘leaders’ gone ?

(For anyone who might be interested the song was ‘where have all the flowers gone by Peter, Paul and Mary).