Huw Thomas assesses the key trends and themes from the RBTE exhibitor floor, which he says offered "everything a retailer needs to cater for".
RBTE 2015 was a great event. Firstly, the new London Olympia venue is superb; the ceiling height and natural light make for a much more welcoming environment than Earls Court. The stands were closer together, I assume to drive greater revenue, but this made for a much more dynamic feel to the whole event.
From a visitor point of view Tuesday was manic, really busy all day with great attendees at our stand. I was positive about last year and this year was even better. This is a view that was generally shared by most of the exhibitors I spoke to.
Walking the floor, the diversity of products and solutions on show was very varied and offered everything a retailer needs to cater for. The addition this year of the Retail Design Expo provided a real insight into the blurring of the relevance and use of IT beyond the traditional retail systems into the wider store footprint.
For me the stand-out store IT innovation from the floor was the Dreamoc 3D content imaging solution from Real Fiction. You don't get too many new things and this I thought was relevant, cool and sexy! Not just a gimmick but a real high quality marketing initiative that will absolutely grab consumers' attention.
From a more typical solution point of view I also really liked the new mPOP integrated receipt printer and cash drawer from Star Micronics. This is really relevant for the growing mobile point of sale (MPoS) market.
It was also great to see a pure services company represented. It was even more surprising to find out that KFP Total IT Solutions is based in a building we sub-let across the road from our head office in Abingdon, Oxfordshire!
Everyone I spoke to agreed that retail IT vibrancy continues to improve at an ever increasing rate. More capital projects will drive greater investment and accelerate innovation.
What is clear is that the trend is moving rapidly towards greater store mobility, whether that be about putting MPoS technology in the hands of store staff, enabling better communication between staff throughout the store or facilitating improved management of products, prices, promotions and cash.
All of these have the propensity to drive real improvements in store efficiency while also delivering a better consumer experience. However, the pre-requisite to all of these solutions is a robust full coverage wireless network. This for me is the single biggest practical requirement to enable all of the cool stuff. The problem is that deploying effective wireless coverage is complicated and expensive, particularly in older stores with a complex and ageing footprint.
Unfortunately, I am not convinced that the financial position has improved sufficiently yet to allow a payback that will be acceptable to include the wireless infrastructure that most retailers are yet to achieve. On that basis the implementation of much of the cool stuff may still be a bit of a way off.
Huw Thomas is Managing Director of PMC is a regular columnist for Essential Retail.