WHAT DID WE GET RIGHT IN 2016?

[retail bytes] is here to help you lovely people negotiate your path through the minefield of tech innovation, so it’s only right that we pause and check what went well in 2016.

Almost there Our big love in 2016 was virtual reality/augmented reality. As the year unravelled (and it certainly did for the UK), luxury fashion followed our hunch and delivered some stunners aimed at trade fashion buyers during the London, Paris and Milan fashion shows. Immersive reality is a great creative medium that also saves time for those buyers who don’t fancy long-haul flights just to see a few models on the catwalk. Sadly, in the consumer market VR was a no-go (except for a brief spell of Pokémon Go fun this summer, but it didn’t last much longer than that).

For now, the memory demand to have VR apps on your phone is just too high to justify for the majority of users. So, we’re giving ourselves 0.5 points for at least recognising the trade buyer potential. (Score: 0.5)

<FAIL> We were fascinated with 3D printing for jewellery, fashion and wearables. Alas, the process simply does not scale up and didn’t deliver growth due to the excessive cost per piece. A few survivors are knocking about, but we think this was a cul-de-sac for e-comm and fashion except for a narrow niche of prototyping studios. Nil points here. (Score: 0)

Let’s get physical A wide selection of brands from Nike to Caretime tackled wearables, but alas this only hit success in the fitness category with Fitbit. They have quite a narrow demographic, though, with affluent east American runners and cycling MAMILs (Middle Age Men in Lycra) in the UK/Holland/Germany, and that’s a bit too niche to grow. The smartwatch just doesn’t deliver that much extra over phone functionality, and even the most dedicated fans have finally given up on Pebble while the share prices of other suppliers are going down the pan. Zero points for us. (Score: 0)

Virtual money > physical money One of the more successful predictions was our continued faith in Bitcoin – the cryptocurrency experienced quiet growth over the year and then had a real killer run at the end of 2016, as the price climbed up to 1000 USD/BTC. We’re positive about cryptocurrencies, and expect that growth to continue with support from increasingly handy transfer apps like SendWyre and fed by a consumer need for cheaper ways move funds across borders. Our patience was rewarded, so 1 point to us! (Score: 1)

Make your SME funding dreams come true Early in 2016 we noted that private equity and venture capital firms were giving up on e-fashion  (fools they are) and big brands like Solestruck and NastyGal ended up not being able to raise funding and declared bankruptcy. We’ve made a strategic decision to increase our backing for new, emerging fashion brands and focus on raising money for them locally via crowdfunding on CrowdCube. This platform was one of the big successes of 2016, as start-up brands like Bluebella (the lingerie brand that raised twice their target), Solely Original (creating luxury personalised shoes from a 3D foot scan) and Le Col (innovative clothing for MAMILs) didn’t just hit their targets but were heavily oversubscribed. Word in the City was that crowdfunding is only good for beer and tech, so 1 point to us. (Score: 1)

A personal touch We got excited about freeing up the cashier and letting the shop assistants (human or robots) look after customers and complete payments via mobile payment devices, rather than handing the customer over to the cashiers and disrupting the sales process. This is the stuff that retail conversions are made of. The tech has been here for a while and we’re happy that Nike, Lowe (US) and Apple stores made everyone else in retail sit up and listen. Victory to the customer (no lines at the checkout) and empowerment to the sales assistants who now feel an ‘ownership’ about each customer interaction. A big point for us. (Score: 1)

For the trustworthy customer The one time we were somewhat negative about new retail tech was the self-checkout for Amazon Go, but Bezos has proved us wrong. Our prediction was that once store assistants can take payments anywhere in the store, the customer would be happy for them to scan their basket content. However, the super successful trial of Amazon Go’s self-scan no-cashier-at-all checkout shows that humans do prefer to shop with no interaction at all with other humans if that means saving precious time. Amazon 1, TRP 0. (Score: 0)

EXTERMINATE! As crime in shopping centres and around business parks increases, security robots are now in hot demand. We’ve followed KnightScope for a while now and it’s a delight to see that the omnipresent, smooth white, Dalek-like friendly helpers are in demand from Westfield and other large shopping centres. The end of pick-pocketing as we know it. One point to us. (Score: 1)

Never lift a finger again Following our theory that humans are basically happiest whilst on the sofa in a horizontal position (duh), we backed voice recognition for e-commerce product ordering. We’re pleased to say that Amazon’s Echo Dot, with its voice-recognition-enabled virtual assistant Alexa, has smashed all expectations, even causing a shortage of their stock. If you wanted it for Xmas it meant schlepping to the nearest Maplin as the online shelves were bare! It listens to a lot more in your living room than just orders for beer, so it’s also another risk to privacy, but for now customers are hooked. One point to us. (Score: 1)

Pop up or pop off! The last couple of years have been pretty tough on good old bricks-and-mortar shops, so we took a view that, in the long run, the British high street will be used for hotels with gyms, entertainment and no-stock stores, or for mega malls that cater to your morning yoga sessions and juice needs, rather than for buying fashion. Hence, we backed fashion brands with pop-up strategies like Miista, Karen Millen and Bluebella for their exciting but ephemeral presence that delights whilst avoiding high costs (damn that business rates rise!) that come with the high street’s horrifically pricey leases. E-commerce fashion is slaying it with the millennials, while coffee, food and yoga dojos are taking over cities with 270 restaurants opened last year just in London. One point to us, so pop up or pop off in 2017! (Score: 1)

The verdict? 6.5 out of 10 – not too shabby for our [retail bytes] forecast ability. Next week we’ll dare to put our necks on the line with our bets for 2017. Wishing you a very exciting and innovative year ahead! Email Eva@TheRetailPractice.com your tech bets for next year and you could win a free Digital Acquisition Workshop for your marketing team!