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Evoke’s technical director, Dean Ward, shares this thoughts on the team’s trip to the Big Apple for the National Retail Federation: Big Show 2017

It’s fair to say that uncertainty is the prevailing mood in the USA at the moment. But while the new President’s Tweets –are impossible to predict, there’s one thing you can be certain of: retailers’ love for digital technology shows no signs of waning.

Held every year in New York, the National Retail Federation’s ‘Big Show’ is a staple trip in the Evoke calendar.  Playing host to more 33,000 people and 550 exhibitors, the four day event is a veritable who’s who of the retail industry. It gives us a great chance to meet with our existing customers in the States – with Nike, Adidas and McDonald’s all well represented – and there’s also the chance to make new connections with potential distribution partners and agents.

But it also gives us invaluable insight into what the emerging trends in the sector are: what’s worrying retailers, and what are they focused on.

Amazon is showing no signs of halting its march on the high street. The online behemoth is planning an aggressive incursion by opening bricks and mortar stores, leaving brands under no illusions that they need to come up with progressively innovative ways to combat this.

Online will always trump in-store when it comes to convenience, but the smart strategy is to focus on the battles which can be won.

Stores are becoming increasingly focused on delivering an extraordinary experience. One that’s personalised, utterly engaging and that can seamlessly blend a tangible hands-on offering with genuinely useful digital technology.

Alongside the exhibition itself, New York is home to flagship stores for some of the biggest brands in the world. I was particularly excited to visit this year, as Evoke customers Nike and Adidas are at the vanguard of delivering this new kind retail theatre, and both launched new technology-focused stores in 2016.

Nike has opened a 55,000 sq ft store in SoHo, replacing the tills with digital kiosks and mobile POS, while making brilliant use of the space. There’s less a sense of it being a classic transaction driven environment, and more a community hub, tailored to the company’s target demographic.

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The whole store buzzes with connectivity and interactivity. Shoppers get the chance to try running shoes on treadmills that take them on a virtual run in NYC’s iconic Central Park. Key staff are hired as dedicated on-one-one ‘athletes’ and are experts in their field. Sessions are booked with them in advance and these sessions typically yield are higher average spend.

Changing rooms are larger to facilitate stretching and lunging in the latest active wear, and replete with lighting that can be adjusted to mirror a yoga studio, or darkened further to reflect a night run. There’s even a full size basketball court!

A few blocks away is Adidas’ offering. The flagship store on the corner of 5th Avenue is the company’s largest high street unit and just as impressive.

The whole environment is designed to feel like a sports arena. Adidas launched its ‘stadium retail’ concept back in 2014 and this latest iterations is truly immersive.  Chain-link fencing, player tunnels and bleachers for shoppers to sit and watch televised game set the scene. Customers can have consultations with personal trainers or refuel with a healthy concoction from the store’s juice bar.

Digital kiosks and interactive signage flash up product information and present the ability to browse and order an entire back catalogue, while ‘customisation stations’ allow personalisation of clothes and footwear.

Indeed inviting customers to do more than just buy is an emerging trend. ‘Co-creation’ – from simple customisation of trainers using digital kiosks to actively participating in store organised events – encourages people to buy into the brand values, fostering a sense of loyalty and, ultimately, driving future sales.

The attention to detail and opportunity for interaction is staggering. Both stores are standout examples of retail theatre at its finest.

Back at the show we heard Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich announce that the company would be investing $100 million in retail technology R&D, and there were numerous examples of IBM’s Watson super computer powering technology that could analyse emotion through tone of voice and facial expressions. Access to data and increasingly intelligent artificial intelligence will continue to top retailers’ wish lists, and the big tech firms know it.

Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology also shows incredible promise for retailers and featured heavily, with Macy’s announcement that it is adopting it throughout its stores still reverberating around the sector.

RFID entails tagging objects with tiny electromagnetic chips, and it’s hit the headlines recently thanks to Amazon’s ‘Go’ initiative, which proposes automated transactions, billing a shopper as they leave the store – but the underlying technology is nothing new.

Macy’s is using it to great effect to not only streamline stock checks and supply chain control, but to assess how long products have been on shelves, and also to analyse what has been picked up and what hasn’t.

At Evoke we have considerable expertise with RFID through our work with leading library self-service provider Bibliotheca, and our thoughts on its applications and implementation will be the subject of a future blog.

Boarding the plane back to the UK I felt that far from being overawed by the technology on display, we were somewhat ahead of the curve. They do some things brilliantly in the US – they certainly take retail theatre to a whole new level.

But the digital kiosks and signage we’re developing in the UK are still streets ahead of their USA-manufactured counterparts – both in terms of form, and function.

The market is primed for disruption and I’m excited to continue growing our business on the other side of the Atlantic.

Team evoke are taking on their biggest challenge yet, tackling the ‘three peaks’ in May 2017 to raise funds for Clatterbridge Cancer Charity.

A team of 20 evoke staff have signed up to undertake the challenge which involves scaling Britain’s highest three peaks in 24 hours or less. The team need to ascend Snowdon, Scarfell Pike and Ben Nevis, including travel time, in one day; a feat which will require preparation, training and a huge level of endurance.

We are raising sponsorship for the team’s endeavours, with all proceeds going to our nominated local charity Clatterbridge Cancer Charity, who make a huge difference to their patients and families through their work.

Please sponsor our team and make a difference, for more details visit our justgiving page

We’re looking for a Technology Evangelist to join our growing software development team. This is an opportunity to join Evoke at an exciting time and help to shape the team and work towards our goals.

If you have a solid lead development background and a passion for technology, get in touch.

More details on our Careers page

Here at Evoke HQ we’ve had an amazing 2016, with staff numbers almost doubled, turnover continuing to grow and a record number of kiosks manufactured and installed.

We’d like to thank all of our hardworking staff for their dedication and commitment; our suppliers for always striving to keep pace with our innovations and our customers for investing in the world-leading solutions that we create.

Here’s to a great 2017!

[image: some of our staff getting into the festive spirit at our HQ]

Back in September we asked our staff to nominate a good cause to support for the year and over the past few months we’ve been running, baking, raffling and moustache growing for Clatterbridge Cancer Charity.

We’re very pleased to report that so far we’ve raised almost £1000 for this great cause – half way to our goal after just four months.

A huge well done to all our brilliant staff for their efforts, congratulations #teamevoke

Our Autumn teambuilding day took place on Friday 14 October at Manley Mere Sail Sports near to our HQ in Cheshire.
Four teams of staff spent the afternoon designing and building rafts to sail out onto the lake – with varying degrees of success.

We were impressed with the creativity and problem solving skills from staff from all areas of the company and consider it time well spent to consolidate our team working and staff morale.

Our very own Dean Ward has been recognised by Insider magazine in their prestigious 42 under 42 list for 2016 – a collection of stand-out business leaders and entrepreneurs from across the north west region. Evoke’s Technical Director Dean impressed the judges with his design led approach and passion about what he does.

Evoke’s growth and manufacturing success was highlighted in the report which you can read in full here.

We want working at evoke to be rewarding, exciting and challenging. We care about our local community and it’s important to us as a business to ensure we give something back.

In 2016 our staff have nominated a company charity to support. Many of our staff have been directly or indirectly touched by the work that Clatterbridge Cancer Charity do and we’re excited to be engaging with such a worthwhile cause, based just 5 miles from our HQ.

Evoke have pledged to match all funds raised by employees, supporting with allocated time during working hours and a commitment to undertake a minimum of 4 events per year.

Our first event took place on Sunday 18 September in Liverpool city centre. Eleven of our staff completed the 5k Scouse Run in times varying for 25 minutes to 45 minutes. So far we’ve raised over £250 and counting!

To add your support and find out more information about this fantastic cause please follow the links below:

justgiving.com/evokecreative
www.clatterbridgecc.nhs.uk

We’re proud of our roots as a Wirral-based company so are delighted to have won the Wirral Chamber of Commerce award for Business of the Year (50+ employees). Our Directors and staff enjoyed the celebratory dinner and awards ceremony at Thornton Manor on Friday 16 September which was attended by over 500 people from businesses across the region.

Evoke beat competition from household names Typhoo Tea and Liverpool Airport, as well as fellow Bromborough-based tech firm Webtise, to receive the award which recognises our commitment to the region and continued growth over the past 12 months.

See full coverage of the awards and ceremony here.

Evoke’s technical director Dean Ward’s reflections following Grant Thornton’s Internet of Things (IoT) panel discussion

In June and July 2016 we enjoyed numerous blue-sky talks and exhibitions as part of the International Festival Business 2016, with commercial director Neil Clark claiming his five-minutes-of-fame, discussing the new business opportunities and information available to growing exporters such as ourselves on North West Tonight!

But a highlight for me was Grant Thornton’s Internet of Things (IoT) discussion, hosted at the firm’s Liverpool office in the Royal Liver Building as part of The Edge, a fringe festival running alongside the main IFB programme.

I was invited to sit on a panel which included Tim Griggs of multi-national consultancy firm Arup and Steven Revill of Urban Tide – a business specialising in planning and delivering smart cities. Our brief was to discuss the opportunities and benefits of the IoT, along with the potential pitfalls.

Cisco – the world’s largest networking company – has recently increased its forecast for the economic value created by the “Internet of Everything” in the year 2020 to $19 trillion. With retail and manufacturing two of the industries expected to benefit from this, it’s a topic I’m genuinely excited by.

Retail implications

The implications for retailers are numerous. Our clients ask us design the end to end customer experience, and increasing connectivity between devices – from smartphones, to tablets, to wearables – is set to revolutionise this.

Technology is already in available to allow in-store displays and kiosks to change to show a product that may appeal to a customer, depending on their smartphone browsing history, or to monitor the amount of time spent looking at a product and follow that up with emails and social media adverts targeted specifically to that customer’s interests.

By analysing the collective data, retailers can track footfall, both in terms of volume and actual routes taken around the store, and see which elements of store design are working and which need changing.

The potential stumbling block to all of this innovation taking root is: are customers happy give up their personal data in this way?

Arguably, as much as it may improve the high street shopping experience, data and connectivity used primarily benefits sellers and the uptake and continued development will be undoubtedly be commercially driven.

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Reduced burden on the health service

But the ways in which the IoT looks set to aid the health sector promises far more obvious social value and has the potential to relieve pressure on strained healthcare provision in the UK.

We talked about early adopters of the technology and a company making a smart plug called 3rings to send alerts to a mobile phone if an elderly or vulnerable person hasn’t switched on an appliance such as a light, kettle or TV, that they habitually would do and prodive an early alert that something might be wrong.

Such a simple, but brilliant, idea.

In a very real way, that technology has the potential to allow older generations to retain a sense of independence in their own homes – benefitting them and reducing the need for hospital or care-home admissions.

Evoke’s own health-check kiosks are greatly enhanced by new IoT devices. The connectivity and sharing of data improves diagnosis accuracy and patient outcomes. While still in its relative infancy, it’s clear the technology has a huge role to play in the ongoing personalisation of medicine.

Smart cities

The panel also touched on the concept of smart cities and, in particular, the reduction in traffic congestion that could be achieved by the IoT. Technology can be installed to monitor traffic flow, provide real-time information to drivers provide information to drivers and ease congestion through variable speed limits and instruction to use the hard shoulder.

The reduction in pollution and the economic benefits resulting from more efficient commuting will be brilliant – not to mention that it will just be nice to sit in fewer traffic jams!

Security and drawbacks

Of course it would have been easy to get caught up in all of the potential benefits, but a lively and engaging audience posed some interesting questions.

The issue of security – what should and what shouldn’t be connected – and the importance of keeping personal data secure is perhaps the major caveat in what is otherwise an incredibly promising concept.

Whether the existing infrastructure is capable of supporting this connectivity is another hurdle, but one which I feel will be overcome. There is so much to be gained, both financially and in terms of social value, that public and private interest will ensure this doesn’t hold the IoT back.

In terms of allaying fears around security and encouraging people to buy in: that’s on us.

One of Tim’s closing comments, which I particularly liked, was that the best digital technologies are like a good waiter; there when required and seamlessly enhancing your experience, without you even realising.

Designers and manufacturers of innovative technology will have to ensure that the devices of the future are simply too useful and too appealing not to use.

I’d like to thank Grant Thornton for a thoroughly well organised discussion and a great evening. The promise of the IoT will continue to factor in all of our thinking at Evoke and we’re excited to be part of its development.