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Trends shaping the future of retail from Andrew Long

The author of Retail Technology Vision shares his thoughts on the future of retail technology.

Tell us about your role at Accenture.
I lead retail technology strategy in the UK, where I develop IT strategies for retail organizations. In the past three years, our group has been focused on digital transformation and how it impacts the technology a retailer needs. We address the investment required in a three- to five-year horizon, and the roadmap to deliver digital transformation.

How long have you been working in Retail?
I’ve spent more than 15 years in retail, consumer goods and services, and life sciences. The overlap between the industries provides an interesting perspective, especially as it relates to the consumer and the emergence of technology trends such as digital, and before that, cloud. Retailers have been impacted by digital a couple of years ahead of other industries, and that impact has affected other parts of the business, such as supply chain and commercial functions. Technology has also introduced new competitive threats, such as manufacturers selling direct to consumers, or consumers selling to consumers. Retailers must understand and react to these changes.

You co-authored the Accenture Retail Technology Vision this year. What helped to fuel your ideas for the piece?
A lot of the content stems directly from work we are doing with retailers, either helping to define their technology vision and strategy, or as part of delivery work where Accenture is involved in the implementation of solutions. Read Accenture's Retail Technology Vision here.

What is your favorite example in the piece?
I like the example of a pour-over coffeemaker. This product detects when you are running low on your favorite coffee, and it sends supplies to your home before you run out. It is exciting to consider the possibilities of a device ordering for itself. Not long ago, you had to leave your house for the majority of retail activities. The Internet lowered a barrier and made it easier to purchase without leaving the home. It also scaled the proposition to a much wider audience.

Are you noticing trends evolving at a different pace across geographies?
Some trends are surfacing more in specific countries or regions. For instance, retailers in North America have been successful in building out platform ecosystems, in part, due to the level of technology penetration amongst customers and large retail organizations investing in leading IT. In the UK, where I am based, grocers have been very successful with online. About 30 percent of grocery shoppers here are shopping online. In the United States, the online grocery market is half the size.

Let’s take off your work hat. What would you, as a consumer, like to see advance in the next five years?
I’d like to see continued improvement to the customer experience. There are so many opportunities for technology to be used to revolutionize how we interact with organizations—but it should be used to not only drive benefits for the retailer, but for the customer. The retailers where I would definitely shop again are the ones where the customer experience has been the differentiator.

What is your most memorable “non-seamless” shopping experience in the past year?
The most frustrating example happened this week. There is an organization where I am a customer, it’s not primarily a retailer, but it has a retail offering. Its consumer website goes down nightly for maintenance. I tried to log in the next morning when it was back online, to find my account had been locked. I sent a request to unlock it, and I am still waiting. If this was a pure retailer who couldn’t rely on some other competitor barrier to entry, I am sure they would be out of business right now!

As a shopper, what’s your biggest pet peeve?
At the moment, it is about the amount of data that I need to provide to retailers. Often, I cannot see the direct relevance to my customer journey, or benefit for me. If you ask a shopper for data, be clear why you want it. Is it required, will it provide some value to them?

What about technology is considered exciting and cool in your household?
I have two young children, and their view of “normal” is so different from what was normal just five or ten years ago. Their curiosity about anything is fueled by being able to, no matter where you are or what time it is, look up a definition, find a photo or something, watch a video of whatever you could possibly want to.

Is there anything that people would be surprised to learn about you?
Prior to joining Accenture, I worked as a pyro technician for several years, building and launching fireworks. The largest display was to a crowd of 300,000 people in New Zealand.

The retailers where I would definitely shop again are the ones where the customer experience has been the differentiator.
Managing Director, Accenture Retail Technology Strategy