The Digital Festival kicked off on Monday, 21st May for two days at the Wales Millenium Centre, which for us, is just down the road (winner!).

If you’ve ever been inside the Centre, you’ll know it’s a pretty big place. But the Digital Festival guys had filled the space with an abundance of exhibitors, stages, round-tables (for discussions of course) and tech demos. Each floor had various offerings, making it pretty difficult to navigate, but all in all, it was an impressive event.

One panelist talk we attended discussed “The rise and new context for digital and mobile commerce”, which looked at its impact on brick and mortar establishments and the potential future developments. It seemed quite fitting to attend this main-stage talk, not simply because of our interest in eCommerce but headlines this week have centered around the shock announcement that x100 M&S stores will be closing following its 63.5% profit loss.

So, with all this crisis on the high street, what does it mean for the digital high street? Will it change retailing as we know it?

The resounding answer from the panelists was yes, it will change retailing as we know it.

Jeffrey Peel, a Technology Sector Specialist from the Department of International Trade said, “Retail frontage closure is absurd, high street retailers need to consider brick and click – an omnichannel approach”, he went on to say that John Lewis is leading the charge and that Marks and Spencer have been too slow in reacting to our evolving shopping habits.

It goes back to the basic principles of marketing and CRM he says because there is a need to identify individual customer needs and inherently give them what they want. Smaller businesses, like, are doing this much better than the national corporations. Why? Because they know exactly who their target market is and their brand resonates with their audience. Though some might argue that larger e-tailers have access to copious amounts of internet data to analyze unlike smaller brick and mortar stores, which might indicate that they have the upper hand in identifying their target markets and uncovering shopping habits, but without monitoring and analyzing these trends in depth the data becomes obsolete.

As for the digital high street, it was agreed by the panel that Amazon is “cleaning up” since any obscure requests can be found/purchased on the digital department store and the fulfillment is slick, it’s the go-to resource for goods online. People opt for Amazon because user-behavior is changing, it satisfies our demand for cheap, quick fixes, and it just so happens that this can be achieved via an app.

Is it our need for a quick fix that voice commerce devices (like Alexa) are on the rise. But, will it make life difficult for consumers?

It was agreed that these devices free up our time, without having to take an action voice commands can instruct digital devices to complete something on our behalf. But as stated by Emma Smith, Chief Executive of Envolve Technologies, “the trick will be to take these devices to the user, rather than bringing the user to the device”. That statement means that these devices need to work around the consumer; educating the nation to use a voice device will make life difficult and it spins the purpose of introducing voice commands – to be straightforward and helpful – on its head.

Retail itself used to be for a purpose, to solve a problem. But the nature of retail is changing and its current concept could, in fact, disappear, especially with the speed that voice brings. George Berkowski, Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer at Go Compare said: “retail is a historic concept that needs to be disrupted”.

Since apps have taken a downturn and engagement platforms are on the up, perhaps voice commerce is exactly what’s needed. Platforms like Whatsapp and Messenger allow conversations to happen in what feels like a safe environment online, it also shows when someone has opened and ignored a message – imagine having this line of communication with retailers, better still by voice.

Ok, but what about mobile commerce? These pay functions are becoming increasingly popular, how will that affect retailing?

From a retailers perspective it’s a positive effect since mobile commerce is more fluid and free it will see people parting with money easier. But this isn’t necessarily a good thing for a consumer, especially since the audiences using this technology don’t have the same disposable income as their older counterparts. However, it is naive to think that we are not moving towards a cashless world.

Boxpark situated in Shoreditch, London are already cashless. Although the area is typically trendy and ahead of the curve, the fact this system is already in place shows it is a possibility that isn’t too far out of reach. And, by not accepting coin or paper it makes their accounting much easier which in turn would be great for small businesses.

There’s also the notion of cryptocurrencies in time becoming more mainstream. Which brings with it a host of benefits like eliminating transaction fees and doing away with fraud. Retailers will be able to trade globally without changing currencies and facing the slap of negative exchange rates.

So, what did we learn?

If anything has been hammered home here, it’s that retailers need to take their foot off the “digital break” and begin evolving with the digital age.

It is clear that user-behavior has changed and continues to change with the latest tech developments and it is equally clear that retailers need to get on board. Marks and Spencer’s have been the most recent corporation to come under threat for underestimating tech, proving it can happen to anyone. User experiences aren’t enough anymore, functionalities need to be quick and slick and an omnichannel approach needs to be present since technology is becoming increasingly more important to everyday living.

By integrating a multi-channel approach to marketing, selling, and serving customers that allows people to experience an integrated and cohesive customer experience no matter how or where a customer reaches out, you are appealing to individual customers shopping habits allowing them to browse and purchase products in a way that best suits them.

And since omnichannel retailing is on the rise, our expectations of customer service increase with it. We want solutions fast, and presented to us in a way that is pain-free and easy. Whether that’s by voice searching, voice commands, a chatbot or tailored recommendations based on recent purchases and shopping habits. Shopping behavior has changed so that users now want answers to questions they’ve not even asked yet.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already beginning to bridge some of the issues customers want to be rectified; like using drones or robots for delivering parcels, checkout-free brick and mortar stores and online shopping assistants. Proving the digital space is ever-evolving and whilst it can be a challenge to keep up, it is important to appear to be changing with the times.

By Gethin

Web Designer

25 / 05 / 2018


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