It’s easy to get swept up in new technologies and forget about the customer and what they really want. Investing in technology that doesn’t solve a problem is dangerous for any retailer. So, how can retailers avoid that, what is digital innovation and what does it mean for retailers?

Will Verrill, Co-Founder of made to measure clothing brand, Stitched says that his brand uses AI and AR to make complex business decisions – like buying a made to measure suit – easier for customers to do online. Innovation for them is about focusing on the pain points and then build an experience to ensure that pain point is addressed, which improves the customer experience.

Intu, the shopping centre chain, uses an affiliate ecommerce website to understand how the customer that shops at the shopping centre and how they buy across brands and categories. This informs business decisions and helps manage the customer journey. The job of Intu is to drive footfall to the retailers, and digital helps retailers understand and optimise that. The priority of James Miller, Head of Analytics at Intu, is to drive footfall to shops in the Intu centre. The business uses its digital channels to do so. But ensure that your shops don’t just sell stuff. Give your customers a reason to go. Make it fun! Lush recently implemented package free items with an app to view the packaging using VR. Using digital within the physical space in a way that excites, adds value, and that ignites emotion in your customers.

According to Ian McBeth, Director of Technology at Josh Wood Colour, retailers need to look at all channels, and understand the role the channels are playing. You can’t measure the value of a channel on its own.

But, what about the store? Product sales may have declined in a cost per square foot, but the store is still incredibly important. The shop sells stuff, but also it’s a marketing hub. There is a measurable halo effect on catchment on ecommerce sales, fulfilment centres — H&M spoke this week about using stores as mini distribution hubs, something Cybertill has evangelised for years.

Digital innovation now includes making the digital space more experiential. Mark Dunhill, former CEO of Whittard describes how the new Whittard website is making the digital space more personalised by offering comments from shops staff, chat, customers sharing tasting notes, etc. This is how digital will thrive now, it’s how we can create that experiential retailing online, and drive customers into store.

It’s important that for most high street brands, digital innovation isn’t there to replace shop staff, it’s to free up their time in order to make the people more important. Technology is the easy part. The people who make that technology come to life are your operators. If they are not bought into it, they won’t sell it. For example, McDonald’s replaced tills with kiosks. It didn’t replace staff, it enabled McDonalds staff to start offering table service in the UK.

Understanding pain points and matching solutions to it, is key to real digital innovation. Tech for tech’s sake is so last decade.

What to read next: Short lessons in experiential retail from retail CXOs

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