5 questions for business futurist Kate Ancketill

Insights on the hype around AI, optimizing the in-store experience and meeting consumer demand
Director, Editorial Content
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Kate Ancketill
GDR Creative Intelligence CEO and founder Kate Ancketill

While no one can truly know what the future holds for retail, few people are better poised to look at current trends and anticipate how they might affect plans than GDR Creative Intelligence CEO and founder Kate Ancketill.

Next month Ancketill will speak at NRF Nexus, the retail industry’s premier event for technology, marketing and digital. Ahead of her presentation on mitigating the impact of global disruptors, we asked her what retailers should expect for the remainder of the year, if AI will live up to the hype, and what U.S. retailers can learn from their UK counterparts. 

1. We’re halfway through the year. Retailers are ready for back-to-school and are already thinking about the holidays. What should they focus on for success? 

As we move toward winter, retailers should be prepared for continued pressure on consumer spending power due to ongoing uncertainties surrounding energy prices, inflation, interest rates, debt and the war in Ukraine. We should also, unfortunately, expect extreme climate events in the summer.

In light of these challenges, it is crucial for retailers to prioritize their value proposition by placing emphasis on essential products and reliable basics. It is also important to anticipate the possibility of further disruptions in supply chains and take proactive measures to address them.

One strategy that retailers can consider is initiating seasonal activations earlier than usual. This approach can help shoppers spread the financial burden of back-to-school preparations and seasonal festivities. Focusing on optimism and inclusivity can also help retailers appeal to disenchanted shoppers and win them over.

As theft continues to pose significant challenges for retailers in parts of the U.S., it’s prudent to utilize the relatively slower summertime period to implement measures that enhance store security while trying not to add too much friction. Increasing automation is likely to be the answer in high-crime areas.

2. Artificial intelligence is the hottest topic right now — is it worth the hype? What’s just buzz and what will last?

NRF Nexus

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AI holds immense potential for optimizing operations and achieving significant productivity gains. For instance, companies like ClearCogs leverage AI to enhance demand forecasting, inventory management and labor scheduling in the restaurant industry. Shopify utilizes AI to automatically generate product descriptions that align with a brand’s unique tone of voice, saving precious hours for vendors. In the case of Walmart, it has embraced AI for handling negotiations with suppliers, resulting in substantial savings of 4.2% in supplier agreements. Surprisingly, 75% of Walmart’s suppliers have expressed a preference for dealing with the AI-powered system.

While customer-facing AI may still be in its early stages, it shouldn’t be disregarded. This technology is evolving rapidly, with adoption rates surpassing those of other major platforms. To put things into perspective, ChatGPT reached 1 million users within just five days, compared with two months for Instagram and three years for Netflix.

3. Consumers are increasingly aware of the pinch on their wallets and are choosing where and how to spend their money accordingly. What’s the best way to meet their needs as their priorities shift?

It’s important to recognize that consumers prioritize their cost-saving efforts differently across various spending categories. While they may cut back on discretionary expenses such as fashion, dining out or takeaway food, they tend to prioritize non-negotiable expenditures like holidays.

As retailers, it’s crucial to identify these protected categories by collaborating with research agencies and leveraging their own shopper data effectively. The data holds valuable insights; retailers need to make the most of it.

4. Despite the increase in online shopping during the pandemic, consumers are going back to shopping and spending in stores. What are some ways retailers are engaging with shoppers in stores, creating unique experiences and giving shoppers a reason to linger?

Retailers are indeed finding ways to engage with shoppers in stores and create unique experiences that encourage them to spend more time and money:

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Embrace the dopamine economy — retailers are shifting focus from a transactional approach to more immersive and experiential environments, making stores into destinations where shoppers can engage with products and brands in dopamine-inducing, memorable ways. At the extreme, I’m thinking of Coach and its latest pop-up store, housed on board a retired Boeing 747, aiming to transport customers back in time to the “golden age” of 1950s aviation.

Offer personalized assistance — well-trained and knowledgeable staff play a crucial role in enhancing the in-store experience. Recent customer experience research from PwC shows that shoppers value “friendly and knowledgeable staff” as much as “efficiency” and “convenience” in their expectations of a good in-store experience, and are willing to pay more for it. It’s never easy to retain retail staff but upskilling your people helps, as Hilton has done by training its waiters to become selfie photographers for guests.  

Provide seamless omnichannel integration — the age-old advice still stands; there is a need to provide a seamless and connected experience across channels. Beyond “buy online, pick up in-store,” think of how to improve returns/exchanges at physical stores, and the ability to check product availability in real time. Real-time integration is being explored by Chick-fil-A with its geofencing service enabling the app to detect when a customer who ordered ahead is near the restaurant. This allows the kitchen to start preparing the order, helping to reduce waiting times and ensuring customers receive hot and fresh food upon pick-up.

5. Taking advantage of your perspective: What’s something U.S. retailers can learn from UK retailers?

The UK and Europe are ahead of the U.S. on sustainability, on the whole. Sainsbury’s, for example, has made significant efforts in reducing plastic packaging and rolling out energy-saving stores, while Tesco has partnered with the circular platform Loop to encourage circular behavior.

Asos is exploring affordable rentals for occasion wear, making sustainable fashion options available to a wider audience.

In order to create a more efficient ecosystem, it’s important to involve partners. Tesco’s Tinder-like B2B supplier marketplace demonstrates its commitment to reducing food waste and CO2 emissions by encouraging trade of surplus materials between its suppliers.

Even simple things, like providing water stations, reducing food portions, closing front doors to save energy, screening refrigerators and reducing lighting at night are low-cost no-brainers.

Don’t miss the chance to hear Kate Ancketill speak about the global disruptors affecting retail and how best to mitigate their impact at NRF Nexus, taking place July 10-12 in Southern California. Register now to hear from her and other thought leaders and retail experts including Kara Swisher, Pascal Finette and Lee Peterson.

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