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The changing face of retail at Retail Australasia 2012

Around 250 executives from many of New Zealand’s top retailers converged on the Aotea Conference Centre last week to hear about the latest developments in the retail sector. Held over two days, Retail Australasia 2012 is this year’s only national retail-focused event in New Zealand, allowing those in the retail sector to not only hear from industry experts and visionaries, but to also talk about these issues and opportunities with their peers.

For those of us who are consumers, it’s also interesting to hear about these challenges, and how retailers are going to look to embrace new technologies to engage with their customer base as the competitive pressures grow.

In both the sessions and in conversation with attendees, it quickly became apparent that retailers in New Zealand and Australia are struggling, trying to deal with tepid economies, fluctuating exchange rates, and rapidly evolving technologies which are all creating challenges for retailers – of all sizes. Many people had anecdotes of how Kiwis and Aussies are able to buy goods more cheaply from overseas, often getting a deep discount due to strong exchange rates and, in many cases, also not having to pay the additional cost of GST.

While the issues concerning GST and the impact of purchasing goods overseas will take time to work out, retailers can take matters into their own hands when it comes to technology: by making better use of technology, retailers can create new efficiencies, use new ways to find and sell to different audiences, and create new experiences that entice visitors into their brick and mortar stores.

The Microsoft Dynamics group at Microsoft was the event’s major sponsor, and worked with Intergen to create a stand that was focused on the retail experience: how consumers shop at home; how retailers can use CRM software to better understand their customers’ needs, on-premise and on the road (using mobile devices); and how back-end systems such as Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail can be used to optimise core business and financial processes.

Microsoft’s regional industry director for retail, Rajeepan Raguneethan, presented a keynote on Microsoft’s retail strategy, its range of technologies and what it sees the key issues for retailers as being. Raj’s talk covered many of the same issues raised by the earlier, non-technology-related sessions, but in the context of technology, and how technology, and it was enlightening to see how the challenges being faced by the retail sector are being considered, and often addressed, by technology providers such as Microsoft.

In addition to these familiar technologies, we also showcased a virtual dressing room in conjunction with US company FaceCake. Called Swivel, this innovative technology utilises the latest Microsoft Kinect technology to create a virtual dressing room experience, allowing people to try on accessories and complete outfits by simply pointing at what they want to wear and seeing the items superimposed on their images. The effect is amazing – and fun.


Intergen's Retail Stand

 Intergen's Retail Experience Zone - A virtual dressing room developed by US company FaceCake, utilising the latest Microsoft Kinect technology.


Having this set up at the event showed how technology can add value to the retail experience – even to an experience so familiar as trying on clothes. What are the benefits for retailers? A dressing room mirror can’t tell you how long someone tried an item on for or what they paired it with. Nor can a dressing room highlight special offers or create instant discount offers. And for those stores without the real estate to have multiple dressing rooms, this offers a compact solution. From a consumer perspective, think of being able to match a tie or a belt (or seeing what a more elaborate piece of clothing looks like) without the hassle of having to change clothes or try things on. It won’t be long before this technology enters the mainstream – and potentially our living rooms.

This is the second time Intergen has participated with Microsoft at this event, and in many respects the content and discussion points were similar to those talked about last year. Retailers are still battling with many of the same challenges they were 12 months ago, but what was heartening to see was that in that same 12 month period the technology has evolved, not only helping retailers address some of these challenges, but also offering them the chance to try new approaches to reaching their customer base. One can’t help but think that innovations such as Swivel are just the beginning.

Posted by: Tim Howell, Marketing Manager | 30 May 2012

Tags: Retail trends, Retail

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