Learning When Retail Technology Fails Us

By Piers Fawkes 

Frames The Future

When I was in Seoul last week, I found time to visit the Lotte department store in the Bundang district. There has been a bunch written up around the testing of futuristic retail tech in the store and I was excited to see these ideas in action: including check-out wands, connected lockers and a smart table.

Here are a few pics I took while at the store.


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Notice anything? Yeah, no one is using any of it. No one is using the smart table to find out today’s offers, no shoppers are walking the store scanning their basket of goods with ergonomic wands, no one is storing anything in the electronic-inked lockers. What’s sadder about this, is that no one seemed to be working out how to fix this, no one seemed to care enough to make this faltered experiment to work. Here are a few thoughts that came to me on the flight back on why tech doesn’t get embraced by shoppers at retail.

Lack Of Third Hand

The thing with the wand is that you need three hands. You already have two hands working in a grocery store: when one hand is holding the basket, the other is either picking up stuff to put in the basket or helping you look through Instagram as you walk the aisles. So you can’t scan a product with a want (or even the phone) because you don’t have a hand free to do so.


When I got my first mobile phone in the late 90s in London no one else really had one. It wasn’t really my phone–it was a phone we shared among the team at the ad agency I worked at. While I was excited to use it, I felt awkward when I did. When someone finally called me on my Nokia phone on the commuter train, it didn’t turn out the way I expected. Everyone just looked over at me, and instead of feeling great about being an early adopter, I just felt embarrassed by the technology. It took a while before phones were truly accepted and became a normal part of life.

I think retailers need to normalize behavior when it comes through technology and this could be through (a) getting the staff to work it first or (b) incentivizing heavily. In the former case, could store associates use tech until we get so used to it, we will just want to take over to get everything done faster and our way? Alternatively, could we just offer savings when people use the technology so that they use it so much it would become habit forming?

Lack Of Clear Benefit

We should also look for ways to drive the use of this technology by clearly explaining the rational benefit. Uber’s growth, arguably, is because you can get places in nicer vehicles for lower prices. Too often, we build a display and leave it there—there’s no explanation of why the shopper should care. There’s often little messaging that says, ‘if you use this device which will likely confuse you at first, we’re going to make shopping better.’

Stop The Staff To Rejecting Technology

We recently gave a group of European automotive execs a list of stores they should visit in NYC to get a glance of the future of retail. When they met us at the end of the day, we were shocked that they were disappointed because the retail technology we had highlighted was being underused in the stores—whether that was at the new Nike Soho store, or Pirch or Rebecca Minkoff. The Wolfsburgers told us, “Even when it seemed to work, the staff kept telling us that it was broken and they tried to cover it up or ignore it.” (The only thing that stood out was the Converse store on Broadway where there has been significant commitment to the customization program. )

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In our latest Future of Retail report, we stress the importance to empower store associates—particularly to have human and uninterrupted technologies while interfacing with voice, chat and other responsive technologies.

But so often, staff doesn’t receive the adequate training, support and incentivization. Associates really need to feel that the whole company embraces the technology and it’s there to make the shopping experience better—and to drive the sales higher.



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