Retail Week Hackathon – Judges Report

Our very own Nick Lansley tells us what it was like to judge at the Retail Week Hackathon.

As chairman of the Judging Panel for the inaugural Retail Week Hackathon, I can say on behalf of my fellow judges that we’ve witnessed some outstanding examples of innovation from a set of 10 inspiring teams.

We encountered so many examples of ‘thought through’ innovation where teams tested their ideas through research and refinement, checked business models and built a credible, tangible customer experience.

Our three finalists provided us with outstanding examples, and scored highly in the four judged areas of innovation, business value, customer experience and functionality.

Deloitte Digital presented us with “Fit”, an end-to-end fashion clothes choosing, trying-on and purchasing journey in-store. They had really thought through the customer journey by finding the easiest way for customers to scan product labels – not through barcodes (which can be fiddly to scan with a camera phone), or iBeacons (which cost the retailer to install and maintain) but ‘SnowShoes’, a passive tag that can be placed on the phone’s screen and presents a unique arrangement of what the phone thinks are fingers touching it.

This was quick and easy to use. Having selected the clothes, the customer could go to the changing room to try them on, and alert staff to go and get different sizes using a touch screen. They could alter the lighting in the changing room to suit different environments from ‘daylight’ to ‘at the disco’ to see how the garments looked. Finally the customer could pay there and then (for the benefit of staff, the lights go green!), and walk out of the changing room and the store. The team had really examined the business case to our satisfaction, built a real running prototype and executed a complete customer journey live as we watched their pitch.

Tesco Labs showed us ‘Quick Coffee’, a way to make it easy for customers to buy and pick up their coffee as they approached the coffee shop. By the time they arrived, the coffee would be ready and personally labelled. The team built an app used by the customer to choose their coffee type. In real-time we saw the coffee’s requirements appear in a down-projected image on the barista’s work table, along with a circle slowly growing around the description words to show the estimated countdown to the customer’s arrival.

The barista then created the coffee and placed the cup at the very spot where the description was being seen. The system detected the coffee using a Kinect sensor and alerted the customer that it was ready by a push notification to their phone, then projected the customer’s name and picture next to the cup. When the customer arrived, they picked up the cup with their name projected next to it and the system would set the transaction as complete. The team demonstrated several orders being processed in parallel. We loved the simplicity, the relatively low cost technology deployed, and its good fit with the ‘theatre’ environment found in coffee shops.

The winner, Kega Retail, was chosen because their outstanding hack created a customer journey that travelled across online and in-store channels, with each channel helping the other in an innovative ‘bi-directional’ manner. The team built most of this journey in their hack and demonstrated it to great success. It came closest to ‘the ultimate customer experience’ theme of the Hackathon.

The journey starts when the customer engages with a product online at a retail web-store but ends up not purchasing. The next day, the customer passes the shop belonging to the same retailer. As they are a loyal customer and have the retailer’s app, their phone receives a push notification inviting them into the store. Window signage and in-store screens would highlight the item.

Staff in the store would be alerted to make the item available and answer questions (thanks to staff tablet computers showing detailed information) should the customer wish. If, on the other hand, the customer continues to pass the store and keep walking, they receive a second push notification with an offer that is hopefully enticing enough for the customer to be persuaded into the store.

But the journey doesn’t end there: If a customer were to linger looking at items in a certain part of the store, ibeacons would pick this up. Next time they are at the retailer’s web-store, those items would be more prominent. The business value was clear, and the innovation was to use technology in an easy to understand customer journey that merged the in-store and online channels – and made those channels work for each another to create the nearest we’ve yet come to ‘omnichannel’.

We also gave two commendations: Clear Returns looked at how to use data to filter products by dietary requirements and envisioned how customers could highlight products by wearing a device such as Google Glass. And Ometria explored how to really engage with wish-lists that would work across multiple retailers.

We liked how both these teams took ‘the ultimate customer experience’ to mean ‘ease existing conscious customer frustrations’ – an important lesson for our retail world.

This post was first published on Retail Week

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