Sybarite Spotlight: David Judge

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David Judge: The retail luminary and co-founder of Start Judge Gill explains why there is a big future for technology in retail and how it’s about more than just clicking on Amazon.


There’s a lot that real-world’ retailers can learn from Amazon but they need to change the way they think about tech if they are to challenge its dominance of the market. 

The way to do it is to leverage their one massive advantage – they are real. They need to harness tech to make real’ better. 

Most of the technologies in shops – say, mapping clothes onto your body (badly) in fitting rooms, or tablet touchscreens stuck to the walls mid-system – have been failures. They are difficult to maintain and install, poorly designed and managed by the wrong people because they are not an integrated part of the experience. They are technology bolted on and at worst actually getting in the way of customer engagement.

Shopping is a visceral exercise and the product, as we all know, is what it’s all about. Lessons have been learned painfully and I wouldn’t be surprised if many retailers around the world are ripping out the machines that they spent a lot of money on putting in. 

There are now three scenarios in which tech is especially useful.

The best in-store tech expedites the shopping experience. When it comes to buying something simple, make it easy, with no queueing or pre-payment, so I can just walk in and pick up the item. Consider the EasyPay system in Apple Stores, or Amazon Go, which uses computer vision and machine learning to create a store where customers simply take what they want and go. Anything that makes the experience really easy is good technology and I’m sure that frictionless tech will proliferate because it gets people to spend faster and sooner. 

The second scenario with a tech solution is when a retailer can experiment with format strategy. For example, Sephora’s flash store – a 100-square metre rather than the typical 400-square metre space – enables the retailer to target commuters in places where it cannot acquire the footprint of its larger stores. The boutique, city-centre locations enable customers to browse some 14,000 products, with a digital shopping basket that follows them from touch point to touch point. They also offer beauty services, classes and events, click and collect and next-day pick up, among a host of other services. It is a forerunner in the ultra-connected boutique’. 

This is obviously appropriate to the pure play e-tailers that are now appearing as physical presences on the high street, seemingly every other day. Farfetch, for example, describes its Store of the Future as the offline cookie that closes the loop, between a great online presence and a complete omni-channel offering”. These digital-first businesses will transform retail via data to deliver highly personalised recommendations and direct live’ connections with trends, etc. 

Third, consumers need more reasons to go in person to retail spaces. Big retail needs to be much more closely aligned with entertainment, art and places where people go for leisure. Of course, retail has always been a leisure activity – certainly malls have been a place where people go to enjoy themselves and spend some time with the family, spoiling themselves. But with Amazon gobbling up so many of the mission” reasons to go shopping, retail needs to think of ways to become much more experiential and give new reasons to visit. 

Paula Nickolds, the new managing director of John Lewis Partnership, recently said that department stores need re-inventing’ and accepts that it needs to be led experientially. I believe that entertainment sits at the heart of this and the re-invention will be underpinned by technology. I envisage new platforms of engagement that brands could bring to retail spaces. Something that finds a niche between the movies and the mall. More physical, more participatory — a retail event’ that is driven by technology and still about participation and fun.

The sense of theatre is where I see the future of big retail spaces – spaces that deliver more entertainment, more emotional responses and more fantastic, engaging experiences that make people think wow, this place is amazing!”. 

So when you think about tech in retail, consider the three F’s – frictionless, format and fantastic – and don’t just install the latest piece of kit because your shop needs to look modern. Work out the experience you want to deliver to your customer and then find the tech to deliver it.