Changing consumer behaviour is proving the catalyst for a plethora of intriguing partnerships. The challenge of heightened consumer expectations and the pressing need for smarter collaborations came sharply into focus at last week’s Shoptalk conference in Copenhagen. The event featured speakers from across European retail, with good representation from UK grocery, and the big themes of innovation and the integration of the offline and online worlds were to the fore.

Consumers have changed. They are more curious, more demanding and more impatient. Technology is allowing them to seek out answers and inspiration when and wherever they wish and they expect businesses to understand exactly what they need - we can see this because people are not even bothering to type ‘near me’ any more when they conduct a local search for things like ‘freshly baked bread’.

Martijn Bertisen opinion quote

And when people find what they want they are impatient to access their purchases. Google and other tech companies are fast evolving to offer solutions to help retailers inspire customers and reduce friction in the shopping experience.

Technology can help connect all the consumer-facing elements of a brand and all the ‘backstage’ functions, from IT to operations, so your customers are immersed in a seamless ‘service flow’.

The new tech revolution embraces payment solutions, Augmented Reality, collaborative working tools for project management, voice assistance and more. And moving fast to centre stage is Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.

How can AR help supermarkets in practical terms? Well, we have already partnered with Houzz, a company that brings together a community of homeowners with designers and retailers, to use a technology that allows customers to visualise products in their own homes. When the customer is happy with the product, they can click and buy it.

The cost of running contact centres to handle calls and emails at high volume can be huge. Machine learning can help by reading the content and prioritising what needs a human response versus an automated one at speed. For example, a time rescheduling request ranks far higher for attention than ‘Thanks, my driver was nice’.

Ocado takes this approach and uses Google Cloud Platform to read all the emails, work out the sentiment and label for priority. The delivery service says it is saving £10k a month on a system that costs about £100 a month to run.

These examples show how partnerships are paying off for retailers and illustrate how, with visionary thinking and the right technology, you can meet the challenges ahead.

Martijn Bertisen is UK sales director at Google