Buzzing like a huge, futuristic engine at the Printworks venue in east London, Tech. by Retail Week and World Congress closed its second edition. At the awards ceremony that marked the finale, The Hut Group (THG) was crowned Retailer of the Year, in recognition of its innovative approach to ecommerce, boosted by its proprietary Ingenuity platform.
Some 2000 attendees – including retailers, tech suppliers, start-ups, investors and analysts – gathered over the two days to brainstorm, discover new innovation and brush up on (or learn from scratch) their tech knowledge. The bustling schedule’s 135 sessions covered topics ranging from AI to the spending habits of the digital native group that is Gen Z. There were also a number of tech tours and start-up pitches.
As for the exhibition landscape, bigger booths mingled with smaller ones. A myriad of start-ups (or those with a few years behind them but new to the UK market) were lined up side by side, introducing their respective services with a screen. French personalization platform Early Birds, estimated to drive online sales by an average of 4-8%, was one of them. Said Kevin Sparks, country manager, UK & IE, about the company’s decision to exhibit at Tech.: “Early Birds is well established in France, where we work with retailers such as The Kooples, Lacoste and La Redoute, and we’ve come to Tech. to introduce our services to the UK market – so far we’ve had a good show.”
We also caught up with Taggstar, a five-year-old London-based tech player delivering real-time social proof messaging, which highlights popularity, trends, stock, reviews and more. “Taggstar is ideal for someone like me – a regular guy on a mission to buy, say, a dress for my girlfriend but with little knowledge about trends and brands. Taggstar will inform me what others have bought and how they’ve rated it – it’ll even let me know how many dresses are left in stock in a particular size,” said Jason Porter, Taggstar’s head of sales, UK. Currently, Taggstar provides its services to the likes of Very.co.uk and Missguided.
There was plenty of Gen Z intelligence to brush up on. Sharing the stage with Petah Marian, WGSN’s senior editor, two Gen Z:ers let the audience in on some of their habits and preferences. According to the pair, Facebook has fallen out of favor entirely with this group, but they’re addicted to Instagram, and, to a certain extent, Snapchat. But don’t assume ads on either of these platforms will reach them. Said student Sydney Polinchock:“We wouldn’t buy a pair of sneakers just because they appear in an ad – the only thing that’d inspire us is a good backstory or a product that would enhance our lives or involve some amazing experience. I recently bought a pair of new sneakers, simply because I loved the fact that were made from sea plastic.”
So what’s the favorite fashion brand of Gen Z? According to Henry Patterson, Gen Z:er and founder of Young and Mighty, Hollister rules. “Hollister’s stores are all about the experience. I can take a selfie in the Milton Keynes (UK) shop and it’ll look as if I’ve stepped into a studio – there’s wood everywhere.”
Elsewhere on the sessions schedule, Amazon was a hot topic – both as a threat and an opportunity. This was Raghbit Rana of Salmon digital commerce consultancy’s take on the relevance of the online behemoth. “Amazon is growing very quickly, and customers are increasingly interacting with Prime in the apparel space, too. The impact of selling via Amazon can be huge, not necessarily sales-wise, but because a lot of people go to the site to check what others are saying about your product – these reviews will impact your off-Amazon sales as well.”
During the second day’s panel talk, “Wake up with retailers,” Zalando Portugal’s MD Mark Lamik explained how the ecommerce giant goes about gathering consumer behavior insights: “We send multi-disciplinary teams throughout Europe to go and learn with customers how they use the products – this helps us establish how they use products at home versus at work. With this qualitative data, we try and find patterns in the data between groups, so we can adapt the product for those wider groups.”
To comment on the practical aspects of the event, as out of place it may seem at a tech happening, a few signposts or extra organizers on the ground would have been useful as we sometimes found it difficult to locate the simultaneously running sessions across the many stages. The extensive start-up stable would have benefited from some clearer indications to demarcate their specific field of operation. But these practical details don’t in the slightest put a dent in what was an impressive affair that we’d gladly return to and highly recommend.