Whilst retailers across Asia are starting to wake up to the inherent value of applying in-store technology to augment the consumer experience, a small group of individuals are already looking at the next step in the digital empowerment of stores. One of the most notable organisations leading the retail R&D charge in Asia is Maxus’ Metalworks division. We caught up recently with Director of Technology Tom Kelshaw for a quick chat about the future of retail:
Can you tell us a little bit about Metalworks?
Metalworks is the innovation unit of Maxus. We evolved from creative technology R&D lab in Singapore – exploring how people and cutting edge technology could come together for media experiences. Now, Metalworks focuses on exploring partnerships with a wide range of innovative, technology-led startups, universities and artist. We ensure that no matter how creative or inventive our campaign ideas are, we have a partner that can help to deliver.
Many view customer facing in-store technology as a bit of a gimmick. In your experience how do you see it providing real value back to the consumer?
It’s so important to actually use, experiment and test these technologies yourself. We’ve used in-office labs or showrooms. If you don’t love it, and want to use it every day, chances are your customer won’t either.
How can some of the product development principles developed in the startup world be transferred to revolutionise offline retail?
Certainly the “Lean Startup” approach has a lot of merit. Retail tends to aim for perfection, because unlike software, it’s very hard to change all the elements: real estate, fittings, supply chain, staffing, training. In startups and also in retail, constant measurement, improvement and iteration can uncover really powerful differentiating experiences. Retailers need to create spaces that can allow them to fail fast, and often, and use those learnings to adapt. It could be a pop-up store, concept store or some omnichannel hybrid experiment. Regardless, more experiments done faster and cheaper are better than one or two big bets.
Do you think offline retail can survive the growth of the e-commerce space?
It’ll certainly survive, but it will need to embrace change. It cost virtually nothing to set up an e-commerce store and try to sell one or two of something. Mattresses, contact lenses, apparel. Anything. Why wasn’t it the big established retailers with all of the customer knowledge, the partnerships that at least tried to disrupt themselves? I think established business need to be more comfortable investing a tiny portion of their opex into breaking their own business models. Or investing in a tiny piece of upstart businesses that might do so in the future.
We all love experiences in the physical world. They allow us to explore a brand, or an environment, in ways a mobile app does not. That’s why lots of pure-play e-commerce brands are setting up stores now. Because it gives you something extra. But they’re not setting up stores to sell – it’s to build brand, connect with their customers, and try new things.
Tom Kelshaw is one of over 120 speakers confirmed to participate at the upcoming Retail Technology Show Asia. To book your ticket to attend the show on 20th-21st April in Singapore click HERE now!