This Thursday (18th June), our Managing Director Rob Smith is presenting at the Your In Store Digital Technology Day, .

Recent research suggests that digital technologies influence 36 percent or £7bn of in-store retail sales and this number will likely increase to 50 percent of in-store sales by year end (The New Digital Divide, Deloitte Digital, 2014).

This one day conference will look at how retailers are searching for new ways to adapt to changing customer behaviour and developing strategies for the digital world.

The best retailers are increasingly thinking about how to make the experience more relevant, personalised and interactive in their stores. Ahead of his presentation, Rob was interviewed by George Kiley from One Connected Community - the masterminds behind the conference - to discuss just this.  The interview below opens the discussions on what will be covered in more detail on the day.

Over to George and Rob...

What are your thoughts on in-store digital experiences and meaningful customer connections in the modern world?

In-store digital experiences need to be exactly that – an experience. Not a piece of technology, a gimmick or a brightly lit piece of digital signage. The experience needs to be thought of first, ahead of anything to do with the ‘how’ or ‘what’ is considered. That’s why we’re getting deeper and deeper into service design – improving the intangible aspects of an offering, such as where in-store experiences take place, who is involved, what makes them successful beyond the technology and so on. Explore the customer’s journey and meet their desires with the right technology and service.

What is your number one consideration for retailers before investing resources in new technology?

Ask yourself why you're implementing this piece of technology. Did you find it yourself and are you interested in how it can solve a specific problem? Or did you get a call from a technology vendor and then thought it would be a cool piece of technology to have? Lots of technology can 'wow' us with its capability and you need to make sure you're investing only in the technology that can help you achieve your objectives. Technology searches and purchases should always come from a strategy and goal approach, not a random encounter or phone call.

Do you think retail will invest more resources in digital technology over the next six months?

I do, and at quite a pace. The only thing slowing down this pace tends to be the back office systems that power these retailers. They are often very old school in their organisation - silos of information and reporting without seeing the wider picture. So when coming to implement new technology it often needs significant back office workaround or replacement to maximise the investment. Retailers can't do everything at once though, so trade-offs will be happening as always.

What is your personal take on where technology and customer engagement meet?

Technology has long been overrated. So has customer engagement. Retailers are fighting for engagement when there are many brands that don't have to fight for that engagement, they seem to attract it. The reason for that isn't technology either. It's by being differentiated as a whole, understanding your customers’ desires and exceeding them. You don't see Aldi wielding huge levels of sophisticated technology but they sure have the footfall. Technology should simply be an enabler of your differentiation and meeting customer needs, it's not a strategy in itself.

What recent pilots have caught your eye?

An 'oldie but a goodie' is House of Fraser's small footprint digital stores. I'm keen to see some long term results of these now they've been running a few years. Sweaty Betty's holistic approach to their brand (via classes and all sorts of added value) is superb. Finally, the work that Nordstrom (in the US) did recently by going into a store and making an app to solve a problem in a week was very cool as an approach - instant customer feedback and rapid iterations. We're actually compiling a report on the brands that are 'Inspiring Great Retail'  - you can sign up to receive your copy here

What’s your number one tip for retailers looking to invest in new in-store technology?

Staff training. You should probably spend as much time and potentially money training the staff (who will be part of that technology) as you spent on the technology itself. If you expect people to just pick up things straight away, then that’s a recipe for a lack of use and ignoring the technology because it's not well understood. Show how it is a crucial part of what will make their role and their store a success, and give them the confidence to use it and it will shine. Do the opposite and it will gather dust.

Final thoughts...

It’s clear that the ever-changing face of retail demands a more personalised, relevant and intelligent approach to connecting to the customer. The real challenge then for retailers is to understand the value of digital in forging deeper connections with customers to better serve their needs. Ultimately, the technology has to create a richer experience for the customer.

One Connected Community (OCC) is a retail news and events platform - they give senior retailers the insights they need to make meaningful connections with customers in-store while raising money for a great cause. Proceeds are used to support charity partners who empower young adults with the skills they need to pursue careers in the digital economy. Here's more about their mission.