Local is the New Global – the future of retail (event)

Last week we hosted a “Local is the New Global” event at the Hospital Club in London with leading industry experts in search and retail – Dave Coplin (Bing UK), Nick Strafford (Living Social), Gianfranco Ludovici (eBay) and Jonathan Raper (CEO, Placr Ltd) – to discuss the future of retail and whether location-based devices with search, such as smartphones, can help save the high street. The discussion unveiled the benefits that geo-location can bring to the local shopping environment but also the potential privacy pitfalls that could see the future of the high street take longer to materialise.

Kicking off the debate, our director of search, Dave Coplin introduced the notion that society is currently undergoing a massive change in the way that it uses technology, underpinning mobile technology as a key facilitator of this. According to Dave “the scope and possibility for search and location-based services to further empower retailers and their customers is endless” mentioning the potential  value of allowing consumers to check stock levels, reserve items, see opening hours, menu listings and check their in-store location across a lateral basis, encapsulating numerous local retailers.

Jonathan Raper, the co-founder of Placr, a company that campaigns to liberate open data for retail use, believes that geo-location privacy issues with customers could hold the future development of the high street back if retailers are not careful to avoid high-profile data loss cases.

“I think that retail needs to keep its house in order, take nothing for granted about what people will tolerate or expect. I think they need to build their services out very cautiously; they need to be very strict about privacy and security, in order to ensure that the reputational risks are controlled. Without that, none of the other good things can happen.”

Both Dave and the rest of us on the Bing team found this interesting when you consider that for at least 10 years society has been comfortable giving retailers open access to information on what has been purchased from them in the form of loyalty based card schemes from supermarkets, and this could be seen as a sign that the natural progression to location-based deals is both inevitable and also a good thing if done correctly. eBay’s Gianfranco Ludovici comments that the difficulty arises when consumers lose the ability to choose what information retailers have access to, mentioning that “the key thing is it being a conscious decision for the consumer, sharing that data how they want to and when they want to.”

Nick Stafford, LivingSocial’s general manager believes that the change in consumer behaviour, allowing companies access to localised public information is already underfoot.

“You can see that not only are consumers starting to work with brands that provide that purchase and search facility at a local level, but you’re seeing an infrastructure that’s building up around that as well.”

The issue, for eBay’s Gianfranco Ludovici, is that this very data is locked into proprietary silos, away from both the consumer and third party services. Ludovici mentions “there are lots of larger retailers that have live information but the real opportunity is within the local stores and the local smaller players, but then that’s an infrastructural change… the real challenge will be getting the retailers to show what they have, and convince them that they need to.”

While Nick Stafford believes that the death of the high street may, in recent times, have been exaggerated he feels that the way in which consumers are using technology to scope out information is changing and labels this – a hybrid behaviour. According to Stafford, “mobile is going to help rejuvenate the retail environment.”

Do you agree? Are you, as a consumer, worried about sharing your data with retailers without knowing what the benefits will be?

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