The top four start-ups at the Retail Business Technology Expo

May 04, 2018

GDR SVP Global Innovation Alex Sbardella picks out his favourite start-ups from this week’s Retail Business Technology Expo in London.


The Retail Business Technology Expo is a great place for retailers to buy technology that is ready to be rolled out at scale. Wandering amongst the stands, notably absent are the buzzwords associated with the cutting edge of technology – artificial intelligence, blockchain, augmented reality and the like – replaced by older, tried-and-true tech trends that have become part of the furniture for every retailer: omnichannel, ePOS, customer engagement, payments, platforms, and the cloud.

Personally, I’m always really interested in discovering the exciting new start-ups that can be found sharing trade stands away from the spotlight of the expo’s headline acts.

This year there were four that really jumped out at me. Their innovative technology may, in some cases, still need some refinement, but from what I saw on Wednesday I can see them offering exciting possibilities for retail brands in future.

Here are my picks:




Inkpact is a service that allows brands to send handwritten notes to customers at scale – they use a team of 200 gig workers (called the Scribe Tribe) to actually write and post the notes. Their clients include a leading UK department store and global wine and spirits brand. Inkpact cite a 30% increase in order value and a 58% increase in the likelihood of second purchase for customers receiving a handwritten card vs. an email. It’s about £5 per note, so clearly aimed at the higher end of the market.


Akoustic Arts

Akoustic Arts “A” Speaker is a speaker that projects a sound beam that is only audible to one person. The beam is about 60cm wide. They tried it on me, and it was very impressive, it really was inaudible outside of that small beam. I can see it being used for in-aisle advertising, personalised audio, museum exhibits, theme parks (imagine voices that no one else can hear whispering in your ear whilst waiting for the ghost train), and public safety announcements (e.g. only someone standing in the wrong place hears an instruction to move). They trialled 400 units last year with various retailers including Galeries Lafayette and Chanel, and are now in mass production, and have added bluetooth support to make it nearly wireless (it still needs power). They cost €1600 each, or you can rent them.



Pennies is a digital charity box that adds a prompt to credit card payment terminals inviting shoppers to donate a few pence to charity (or round your purchase up and give the difference). They say they have raised more than £12m so far. It’s a nice little nudge (it’s clever to strike exactly at the point the customer is already mentally primed to spend money anyway) and an easy bit of CSR for retailers.


Hoxton Analytics

Finally, Hoxton Analytics are an AI-based (computer vision) analytics company who analyse video feeds to give retailers footfall, age, gender, customer routes and affluence data for physical stores, malls etc. The clever bit is that they neatly sidestep any privacy concerns by mounting the cameras at floor level and only filming people’s feet. Whilst that means the data is potentially more limited (although it turns out you can tell a lot from someone’s shoes), it completely avoids the issue of creepy tracking in a very practical way.

News & insights straight to your inbox!