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Shopping! Some people love it, some people hate it. But even for those who are addicted, we are sure there are few pet peeves that you would agree could be ironed out to make the shopping experience even better.

And what about for those who work in the sector? There are 2.8 million people employed in UK retail, processing £339 billion of sales (in 2015). It can be a rewarding career but all jobs can be made better, right? Well, it’s technology to the rescue as we look at some of the latest innovations that are eliminating the hassles from shopping – for customer and retailers alike.

Companies that truly innovate in the UK are rewarded by the government through the R&D tax credit incentive. This recognises the wider benefits to the economy of companies making technological advances, and provides a financial benefit to those savvy enough to claim it.

Many of the innovations in the retail sector occur in the digital space – dominated by software development. This has traditionally (and mistakenly) not been considered as an area of research and development, but in fact it is very relevant to the UK R&D tax credit incentive. So let’s see what’s happening at the cutting edge of retail.

A nation of queuers no more?

Long queues, particularly in the lead up to Christmas, are one of the worst aspects of shopping. You’ve done the fun part and selected your purchases, and then you find yourself standing around with heavy bags, grumpy strangers, noisy children and perhaps your car on a parking meter.

It’s no wonder that companies are developing hi-tech solutions to queue management.

Shoreditch based Qudini are one such company. Their cloud-based software offers retailers the opportunity to digitally manage their queues and appointments using mobile apps. This comes with a host of benefits for both the shopper and retailer.

Virtual queuing means that shoppers don’t have to queue in line anymore. Qudini calculates wait times using live and historical data and presents the information back to customers in real time. With customers kept in the loop, they can plan their shopping trip better.

For the retailers, the benefits are arguably even more powerful. As well as efficiently managing the shop floor and reducing aborted sales, it offers the chance to creatively engage with customers whilst in the store. It helps shops to monitor business performance and the data capture presents CRM opportunities including issuing vouchers. Plus, it sends a signal that customers are cared for and the shop is forward-looking.

Cloud software development is often highly innovative – as in this case, tackling age-old problems in new ways with the help of technology. Work spent developing code, algorithms, user experience, multiple platforms, integrating with other software through APIs and customisation for end clients all has strong potential to qualify for R&D tax credits.

Home deliveries: faster, faster, faster…

Online shopping is transforming the retail experience for shoppers and shop owners alike. You may not have to queue when shopping online, but that doesn’t mean you skip waiting around… or does it?

It used to be that you would buy something online, and then wait a few days for delivery. You may not have to leave the comfort of your own home, but it could still be pretty frustrating waiting for your purchases to show up. Amazon Prime has made next day delivery the norm for many, which is fast. But not fast enough for some. Amazon Prime Now goes one step further offering two-hour delivery in select UK cities! And they are not the only ones.

Shutl is a London-based company that uses clever technology to link a network of same day courier drivers to provide immediate (as little as 90 minute) local delivery times. However, according to their website their fastest delivery time was just 13 minutes 57 seconds!

Now, obviously, part of this service is ‘physical’ leveraging a network of couriers to make the deliveries. But behind that, Shutl are a software company.

Their software (they call it “rocket science”, perhaps hinting at the R&D) automatically pairs the demands of a particular delivery with the best courier for the job. It factors in price, consumer feedback and performance history to optimise value and service delivery. “Not just for retail then”, we hear you say, and you’d be right.

However, the team at Shutl have also designed their software to integrate with top retailers to provide tantalisingly fast and convenient delivery options. Companies like Hotel Chocolat, Richer Sounds and The Perfume Shop are signed up. The powerful yet simple software is designed to easily integrate in all websites platforms from the bespoke, to established names like Magento, iOS and Websphere.

They have also developed a mobile app that presents real time information such as GPS tracking, delivery statuses and other updates.

All of these are areas that we would be examining for innovation if we were looking to prepare an R&D tax credit claim.

Shutl were acquired by eBay in 2013 and at the time of writing are developing a dedicated delivery service for eBay users.

Try before you buy

When it comes to buying clothes, many people prefer to shop online from the comfort of their own home. While for others, there’s absolutely no substitute for getting up-close and personal with that new dress or suit in-store.

However you choose to shop, one challenge for both online retailers and stores has long been how to make it easy for shoppers to ‘try before they buy’.

Now the solution may be in the bag thanks to two exciting new technological innovations.

Leading the way online is eBay who have recently acquired computer graphics company PhiSix. They have developed technology that creates 3D models of clothing from photos and pattern files, simulating how the garment will look and behave while being worn. This will allow consumers to try on clothes “virtually” before buying online, providing a more immersive online shopping experience. It is also anticipated that the technology will reduce the need for costly returns. They are excited about the potential for in-store use of the technology too.

Not to be outdone in the retail environment, Uniqlo’s new San Francisco store features an interesting piece of technology developed in the UK by digital agency Holiton. Called the Magic Mirror, it eliminates the need for shoppers to take different coloured versions of the same garment into the fitting room. Instead, using touch screen technology and clever software, the shopper is able to view the garment they are wearing and change it to any available hue in a matter of seconds. You can check out the impressive technology in this video:

Let’s make it personal

Gone are the days when “you could have any colour, as long as it was black!”. Personalisation is a major trend in retail. A marrying of digital technology and high-tech production techniques, including 3D printing, opens up all sorts of products to personalisation.

One company in this space is Japanese T-Shirt seller UTme! They have developed an app that lets you design your own unique T-shirt in four simple steps: A base image, an effect, a shake (the magic bit) and the order. Taking the concept one step further they even offer a marketplace where users can sell their own designs and share the profits.

Australian company Shoes of Prey is another company that has been built upon the principles of customisation. Co-founder and chief creative officer Jodie Fox had a problem: she had always liked shoes, but never loved them! Because she couldn’t find exactly what she was looking for. When travelling, she had found a designer who produced custom shoe designs for her. She quickly developed a great personal reputation for her shoe collection. Along with her co-founders (who worked at Google), she realised there was a great online retail opportunity for solving this problem. As with every other example in this article, technology is one of the strengths of this innovative business. The chief technology officer leads a team of engineers who apply cutting-edge technology in their quest to create the world’s slickest shoe design interface. Why not try their 3D Designer yourself here?

Developing advanced electronic point of sale systems

Electronic point of sale (EPoS) systems are a vital part of retail operations. They optimise inventory management so that retailers don’t overstock or understock their stores, and customers aren’t left disappointed with empty shelves. But more than that, innovative systems can be used to allow shop assistants to help customers efficiently, drive offers and promotions and even build customer databases.

One company that demonstrates innovation in this field is Intelligent Retail who developed a proprietary EPoS system called Connect. Boasting multiple channels, unified stock control, back end systems, unrivalled digital architecture and a host of integrations with major online shopping players, it is sold as a premium system.

They originated when an independent retail business looked to source an EPoS system that would cover all the sales channels of their company, and couldn’t find one. So Intelligent Retail was formed and they developed their own. This kind of story is a strong signal that research and development may be occurring: no existing technological solution is available so an advance is sought through innovation.

So what kind of technological challenges may be faced by companies developing EPoS systems? Here a few, to give you an idea of what may count as R&D:

  • Unique coding
  • Hardware compatibility
  • Cloud and offline functionality
  • Developing good quality user experience
  • Mobile app development
  • Integration with other software
  • Database APIs

And there could be many more depending on the precise nature of a project. This video demonstrates how such technology can revolutionise the shop keeping experience:

Have you been innovating in retail?

We have raised the curtain on the amazing research and development that is going on behind the scenes in the retail sector. If you are innovating in this area, we would love to talk to you to see if we can help you claim R&D tax credits. Or, if you are already claiming, we specialise in increasing past claims through our deep understanding of this part of the tax system. Give us a call today to find out more.

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