Paul Unger editor PlaceTech e1535547223419

Editor’s note: Retail’s greatly exaggerated death

There’s a theory about buses and the media. When things go wrong on the buses you won’t see stories, even though they are the most popular form of public transport in many places, because national newspaper editors don’t take the bus to work. The issues don’t affect them, so they don’t write about them.

I was reminded of this theory the other day in conversation with an active retail developer-investor.

Administrations, CVAs, death of the high street, Amazon-kills-all… retail is so used to getting a daily kicking that we have forgotten to cover the companies that are surviving and even thriving.

Among those acquiring stores in the UK we have Home Bargains, the Co-op, Superdrug, B&M, Holland & Barrett, and this week Card Factory announced expansion plans. Last week, Primark opened a 160,000 sq ft megastore in Birmingham.

Are retail commentators shopping at John Lewis and not B&M?

The tremendous flux ongoing in retail puts tech in a strong position to help. Retail property players who obviously have an eye on margins, voids, knowing full well what is happening in the troughs of a very peaky landscape, are looking for efficiencies behind the scenes and front of house. Operational gains from better facilities management, signage, cameras, lighting, security, energy systems. Tackling voids with automated pop-up sourcing such as Appear Here, tracking footfall with fresh data providers like Gyana, and powerful listing services PropList and eLocations are all examples of easy ways to start seeing into the future of retail today.

The danger for a consumer-led sector used to trends is talking up buzzwords like analytics and the latest data scientist hire, without really doing anything meaningful. There has been a lot of talk about customer experience but so far has this been anything more than theatrics in the middle of the mall and the odd click-and-collect option?

Consumers drive tech adoption, years ahead of business. Retail is where the two meet – whether it’s a pleasant encounter is up to how well the retail world can grasp the prize and start delivering on their promises to evolve. If they don’t, death might not be so exaggerated.

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