The National Retail Association (NRA) was delighted to host three special events for retailers across Australia last week, the tri-annual State of the Retail Nation. Aimed at small to medium businesses, this event took place in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney and featured three expert panels discussing the role of technology in the customer experience, a topic of much discussion in recent weeks.

NRA CEO Dominique Lamb acted as moderator of all three panels, and said that the role of technology in retail is something that retailers should consider carefully in business.

“Retail is the second-largest employer in Australia, and business owners can compete on a global scale like never before with the advances in digital and technology,” Ms Lamb said.

While the topic of discussion was the same among all three panels, each event provided different insights on how to execute, express and evolve the retail business with the use of technology.

“The reason these events are so valuable is because it provides expert insider knowledge on real issues our retailers face,” Ms Lamb said.

“Retailers need to understand the importance of evolving methods of operation and we look forward to contributing our expertise on how small business can effectively utilise digital technology.”

Top insights from our panellists:

Melbourne
Grant Arnott of Power Retail emphasised the importance of choosing technology that adds value to the customer experience while staying true to your brand image. Jemima Miller of Heritage Brands concurred that as customer savviness is at its peak, implementing these technologies is paramount to stay competitive in the retail industry.
Ron Gauci of the Australian Industry Information Association spoke of the unprecedented ability to have a global presence for a back garage. “It has never been easier to be successful, but it’s also never been easier to be unsuccessful”, he said. Neil Verral of nbn Co agreed, and noted that now that infrastructure like the nbn is in place Australia can take to the global stage and compete with international businesses.

Brisbane
Yasmin Grigaliunas of the Worlds’ Biggest Garage Sale and Cameron Douglas of Videopro spoke of the importance of brand identity and authenticity carrying across all aspects of business. Yasmin said “I represent my brand the same way everywhere I go – when I go to the shops wearing my shirt, when I post on social media, I am ready to have the same conversation”. Cameron agreed, stating succinctly that “professionalism is dead, long live authenticity”. Customers are now starting to prioritise brands who are honest about who they are.
Mirela Lane of HireVue and Ryan Williams of nbn Co discussed the challenges of addressing root issues such as training and communication, noting that the entire business supply chain needs to be trained correctly to deal with customer issues to provide the best customer experience.

Sydney
Brian Walker of the Retail Doctor Group spoke of the range of choice customers now have to research their purchases online, but noted that there is still a significant trend of customers choosing to visit physical stores. “Having a physical presence is an important part of the customer experience, and I would encourage retailers to have [a physical store] as well as an online store”.
Lisa Shalem of Shoes & Sox opened up about the challenges of inventory management between online and physical stores. “It’s still something that we ourselves have to get right – if someone orders the last pair of shoes online and then someone comes into the store wanting to purchase that pair, we’ve effectively lost a sale since we don’t have a warehouse but ship from the store”. Kristian Haigh of eBay concurred, saying that staying agile and seeking the technology to manage inventory is something that will be an ongoing issue for retailers.