Saving the UK high street: It’s time to embrace the retailtech revolution

Blogging from London Tech Week 2018, Russ Shaw says tech is "the solution that will reinvigorate UK retail" after House of Fraser announces 31 closures

Catch up on all of Russ Shaw’s London Tech Week 2018 blogs:


London Tech Week is all about showcasing innovation and highlighting the range of exciting start-ups and scale-ups that are growing within a variety of verticals in the UK’s thriving tech community.

The UK’s position as a global tech leader has often been attributed to the rise of fintech, with companies such as TransferWise and Revolut redefining the financial services industry. These companies have placed Britain on the map as a preeminent global destination in which to create and scale financial technologies.

London’s tech festival has thus far signalled that deeptech has rapidly risen among the various tech verticals, now sitting near the top the list with fintech. The capital is home to a great array of AI, machine learning and data-driven firms that are truly setting the international deeptech agenda with an astonishing rate of progress.

One area that is set to add to London’s extensive mosaic of tech expertise is retailtech – the vertical which is on the rise and on the verge of joining the front runners of UK tech.

To coincide with London Tech Week, Tech London Advocates (TLA) has today launched the RetailTech 50 – showcasing the exciting community of UK businesses at the forefront of the retail tech revolution. The catalogue provides a snapshot of the dynamic and robust retailtech sector here in Britain, and highlights the potential of tech to reverse the fortunes of the ageing, traditional retail space.

An emerging vertical, retailtech is set to have far-reaching implications throughout a contemporary setting, and we are looking much further than ecommerce. The UK is making a leading contribution to global innovation, and it is now vital that we cement progress as businesses come to recognise the positive potential of technology that disrupts and transforms for the better.

The UK can have international success in the retailtech vertical through a similar approach to regulation, investment and research that has been seen with fintech and deeptech – it is essential that we understand how employment is going to change and take a proactive stance.

We need to set out a clear path that is implemented across society, that addresses how we are going to upskill and reskill workers with the digital knowledge needed to prosper in the changing workplace.

Last weeks’ announcement that House of Fraser is to close 31 high street stores is a prominent reminder that the UK’s retail sector has been behind the times when it comes to digital transformation, and that we need to address this trend.

Traditional retailers have been slow to take on new technology, and it is an unfortunate reality that the high street has been in steady decline – we must turn to technology as the solution that will reinvigorate UK retail.

The incorporation of AI across traditional industries is the way forward, as already seen within the health sector and the adoption of Artificial Intelligence by the NHS. Increased data collection at higher speeds will increase knowledge of consumer behaviours, in turn helping to build business models that greater reflect changing customer requirements. By employing AR and VR technologies, retailers are increasingly able to provide unique in-store experiences and change the face of retail for the better.

The UK has already made steps towards incorporating crypto-currencies into the business models dominating the high street, and we should look towards Silicon Valley for examples of how to implement the technology on a mass level.

Similarly, the likes of Amazon and its ‘Cashier free convenience stores’ should be perceived as the new benchmark in the industry, and the sort of fresh thinking that is needed within the UK retail space in order to move the sector forward.

The TLA RetailTech 50 is a great resource for bringing together the UK’s thriving community of businesses pushing forwards with remarkable retail advancements – and London Tech Week has given this emerging vertical the platform that can help to bring it to the next level.

The list serves as the microcosm of the type of innovation that is taking place within our borders, which has the potential to substantially impact the fortunes of the UK economy. Let’s make sure we embrace this new technology and propel the UK retail industry into the future.

Tech London Advocates founder Russ Shaw is blogging for Startups.co.uk daily throughout London Tech Week 2018. Tune in tomorrow for more insights…