Export Knowhow

Retail Reimagined in the UK: Unlocking the Potential of AI

With a forecasted value for the global retail industry of $30tr US by 2023, retailtech is set to be one of the fastest-growing, most exciting tech sectors of the 2020s. What chances do Swiss SMEs have of gaining a foothold in this interesting market?

Retail industry


In February 2021, the Swiss Business Hub UK + Ireland hosted a virtual UK retail innovation business mission to provide unique opportunities for the development of strategic alliances and business collaborations between Switzerland and the UK.

For Swiss entrepreneurs who want to access the supply chains of global retailers or to grow their retail businesses, the UK is an innovation-leader and trendsetter - the ideal market. Indeed, the Swiss Business Hub’s recent retailtech report detailed significant opportunity for trailblazing Swiss companies in the £403bn UK retail market.

A highlight of the business mission was a panel discussion featuring global leaders from Ocado, Unilever, Cap Martins and On Ag who provided fascinating insights into some of the most revolutionary practices in the retail sector.


With a forecasted value for the global retail industry of $30tr US[1] by 2023, retailtech is set to be one of the fastest-growing, most exciting tech sectors of the 2020s.

Underpinning much of the technological innovation is AI, which has revolutionised the entire retail industry, improving the cost-effectiveness of delivering a personalised, immersive and optimised experience for every individual consumer at massive scale, helping to reduce and eliminate waste and fundamentally reforming every aspect of the supply chain.

A Rich Digital Customer Experience

Although AI has been around for more than 50 years, today’s technology, data-availability and awareness of AI’s application has enabled its reach into every aspect of the retail industry.

Starting with brand creation, AI analyses retail ratings and reviews to deliver detailed insights that enable global manufacturers to build brands and create new SKUs.

For multinational consumer goods company, Unilever, this means AI can achieve in minutes what used to take up to 2 years of research and focus groups.

Then to messaging where AI is maximising marketing activities, moving from one-message-to-many-customers to timely, relevant and highly individual messaging.

For On Ag, the ‘fastest growing sports company in the world’ AI is enabling the personalisation of the entire customer experience - from the analysis of individual customer interactions; accurate prediction of future customer need; engagement with customers on product-related experience; to the increase in sales conversion and customer return rates.

Indeed, AI is enabling what Ocado calls ‘a rich digital customer experience’, on a massive scale with an enormous level of complexity.

The Online Shopping Revolution

For some time now, the customer’s perception of online shopping has been that of convenience and, in the last year, safety. 

For the retailer, the dramatic increase in online shopping has meant significant investment in online channels. From the aesthetic, to the functional, to the proactive resolution of problems everything has to be fast, easy, frictionless and reliable.

The most immediate return on this investment has been unprecedented volumes of data, now analysed by AI, enriched with weather, location and traffic data to predict and fulfil need - to get products to the right place, at the right time, in the optimum way.

AI has also enabled retailers to respond to growing customer interest in sustainable supply chains and traceability of origin, to eliminate waste, delivering value for the planet as well as shareholders.

Furthermore, AI has improved replenishment, predictive ordering, warehouse optimisation, pick and pack, stock location, order levels, website search for product availability, availability of delivery slots and fulfilment.

Indeed, for Ocado with its revolutionary digital warehousing AI has enabled real-time stocktaking, intelligent automation, analysis and robotics.

Exploit the Opportunities

Individually, these activities sound fairly straightforward, but for the retailer, connecting the various elements of the value chain and the supply chain is extremely complicated to achieve.

This vital interconnectivity, tracking and data analysis is where AI will play a critical future role. It is also where retailers are focusing their in-house technology development capability.

With in-house teams at capacity, and demand for AI at an all-time high, opportunities exist for new retailtech solutions. R&D, robotics, 3D printing, sustainability and vertical farming are just a few of the areas of growing interest.

Whilst new suppliers and partners are being onboarded by dedicated ventures teams through engagement with tech hubs, the pace of change in retail and the customer’s appetite for new retail experiences demand that global giants expand their supply chains.

However, retail leaders themselves acknowledge the challenges that this presents for both large and small suppliers in terms of time and cost.

For this reason, the Swiss Business Hub UK and Ireland and its network of industry experts work proactively with Swiss entrepreneurs to support market entry and business development, providing research, customer targeting and dedicated in-market representation.

About the Swiss Business Hub UK + Ireland

The Swiss Business Hub UK + Ireland is the UK representation of Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE), the official Swiss organization for export and investment promotion. We support Swiss SMEs in their international business and contribute to their success in foreign markets. The SBH UK +I sits within the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK. Its role is to foster business and R&D collaborations between Swiss and UK / Irish organizations. We monitor trends and build our know-how across industries and deploy initiatives in areas of high economic interest for Switzerland and the UK. Fact-finding missions are exclusive and carefully designed projects bringing together high-level stakeholders from Switzerland and the UK. Swiss companies can learn more about the UK market and its offering, benchmark their solutions and develop a go-to-market strategy. Furthermore, participants have the opportunity to connect with UK opinion leaders and potential buyers or investors. Contact us at london.sbhuk@eda.admin.ch and follow us on LinkedIn to find out more out upcoming activities.”

About Catalina Consulting

Catalina Consulting provides expertise in the strategic development of businesses. We work with technology-led companies, providing practical support with cost-efficient expansion, sustainable supply chain development and effective sales strategies.

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