Episode 1 of our podcast The Retail Revelation found us in conversation with Alex Voica, Head of PR & Communications at Ocado Technology.

Ocado, of course, were pioneers of the online grocery delivery market. Alex Voica sees the brand as a “fusion between a grocery retail business which has been very successful and profitable since the beginning, and a technology company that hires some of the best and brightest engineers and software developers and data scientists and researchers in the UK and worldwide.”

That means that he is well-placed to discuss why retailers should be looking to tech in 2018.

The tech solution from two perspectives

Retailers should be looking to tech specifically to help them with some of the challenges that the industry faces. Alex Voica sees this coming together from two different perspectives.

Firstly, there is the customer-centric perspective. This is where the retailer has a very customer-focused outlook in all aspects of the business. With the focus on providing the best possible service to the customer, Alex Voica believes you have the best starting point. As he puts it, “If you start with how can you do that, how can you offer the best service to the customer, and work backwards in terms of what are the best technologies available.”

This enables retailers to see that tech can be the solution to challenges and problems, rather than to view it as a disruptive influence that gets in the way.

The second perspective is the business point of view. Retailers should be interested in how technology can be used to improve efficiency and operations, as well as affecting the bottom line. Ocado have shown, by using automation, that it is possible to have both – to improve the customer proposition and business operations at the same time.
Waves of technology coming through

Alex Voica explains how Ocado have observed that technology comes in waves and that 2018 there are four or five waves that represent the most exciting parts of technology. These are the things that retailers should be looking to implement this year.

Listing the tech that interests the most, Voica mentions artificial intelligence, robotics, automation and the internet of things. Last but not least, the cloud and the opportunities of big data are very important to Ocado, both for customer analytics and in analysing data from other aspects of the business.

He has an interesting way of explaining the benefits that can be gained from technology too: “When those waves collide with each other and hit you at once, you really have something very powerful and if you are able to master those waves, you can actually achieve a lot of interesting results.”

Overall, Voica sees AI as the most important aspect of tech as it allows business benefits to be gained from various areas. He describes how it can be used in different ways to good effect. Ocado uses AI in its contact centre to help determine which emails from customers deserve the highest priority. In its ‘Instant Shop’ feature, machine learning is used to predict what customers will buy.

When asked about why he thought Ocado has stayed ahead of the curve, despite the fact that many companies have now adopted their model, his answer is clear. Although obviously due to a combination of factors, he sees having a “customer centric attitude, so putting the customer first” as the key factor.

Keeping that in mind is a good attitude for retailers to take as they look to implement tech in 2018.

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