Martijn Bertisen

“Virtual Reality can open up a new world of retail theatre”Virtual Reality, smart voice assistants, machine learning and progressive web apps are all gaining recognition but it’s important to filter out the gimmicks and figure out what might actually deliver a better customer experience. The Google I/O developer conference in May gave good pointers.

Virtual Reality and its near-sibling Augmented Reality are taking off. PwC forecasts there will be 16 million mobile VR devices in Britain by 2021 and 12 million will be lightweight and mobile-based.

VR can open up a new world of retail theatre. Imagine shoppers meeting their favourite TV chef and cooking with them in a virtual kitchen, or being transported to a coffee plantation to see how crops are grown.

AR allows mobile users to see digital imagery superimposed on the ‘real world’ to access extra information. It could help supermarkets pressed for shelf space - anyone looking at a full shelf via an app could see a wider range of stock displayed and request it from the storeroom. Or if the aim is to reduce packaging, an AR overlay can provide details on provenance or cooking advice.

AR-based tech can also help with in-store navigation. Stepping into a superstore can be bewildering at first. With Visual Positioning Service, a customer’s phone could direct them to the item they’re looking for. It’s already used by Lowe’s department stores in the US.

AI and machine learning are beginning to become familiar via smart speaker devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home. The principles are at work in visual recognition tech, and a smart camera app is on the way that can read and actually understand the information in your images. A diner in a restaurant could point their phone at their meal and the voice assistant reel off the ingredients and where they might be stocked locally.

For an insight into how machine learning works, head over to for a fun exercise - though I warn it can be addictive!

Finally, with speed a defining factor in the battle for customer attention, progressive web apps (PWAs) will take centre stage. Research shows 53% of users will abandon a site if it takes longer than three seconds to load. But PWAs offer the instant loading of an app combined with the reach of the web, so they can be used to develop better ordering and transactional capabilities.

British consumers are the biggest online shoppers of groceries in the world [Kantar Worldpanel] with spend per online supermarket trip £64.90 last year. However, less than a third of UK households shop for grocery online so there is a fantastic opportunity to grow this revenue stream with the right digital tools.

Martijn Bertisen is UK sales director at Google