On Tuesday, 30 November, our Digital in Retail & Hospitality event took place at Malmaison Newcastle.

The event focused on challenges and opportunities in retail and hospitality for introducing digital technology to build resilience during covid and enable growth.

In this blog, we’ll recap some of the key insights from the event.

These insights were gained from our amazing panellists and speakers, which included Tony Taylor (Director of IT and Business Change at Greggs), Mark Turnbull (CEO Turnbull Foods), Eric Guo (Founder, SparkEPOS), and Debbie Waddle (Director, the Pineapple Room)  - links in the bottom of this post!


Technology is not a one-size-fits-all approach for shops. It has to complement and extend the brand experience of a retail or hospitality organisation.

For example, in its keynote speech Greggs outlined how the organisation recognised its brand experience was formed by friendly staff delivering great service to customers – and was therefore conscious to use technology that amplifies this experience, instead of technology becoming a barrier to customer-staff interaction. While Greggs could have the opportunity to introduce in-store tablets or AI to produce food recommendations, it has to be considered whether this will support the customer interaction that customers currently enjoy. Instead of changing what was working well, the organisation looked at gaps and barriers that could be addressed through technology. It identified inconsistency in processes and data across shops as a challenge. Greggs has then used technology to develop systems that have driven and improved consistency nation-wide.

This message of using technology to amplify the brand experience was reinforced throughout the panel. To successfully use technology, organisations have to understand their brand and customer experience, ensure this experience is always put at the core, and then look at how technology can address any missing points or amplify what makes the product or service so brilliant. To understand the brand experience, organisations must know what both customers and staff want to see from the brand.

Align with what your customers want

WWMW: What Will My Customer Want? An age old question in marketing and business, but one that’s easier said than done. Yet retail and hospitality organisations alike are extremely customer focused, so to introduce technology, you must understand “who the end user is”, as neatly put by Eric from SparkEPOS.

Debbie from Pineapple Room, discussed how she used her Facebook to ask her customers what they wanted from her. As a personal stylist, she wondered if the pandemic would present barriers in enabling personal interaction, so she took to social media to ask customers for feedback. She then adjusted her services to do online consultations. Of course, it still presented some barriers, such as difficulties in telling people’s colours in their homes (laptop and phone cameras aren’t always high-res), but she has been able to continue her business and even grow.

Similarly, Mark Turnbull from Turnbull Foods recognised that customers enjoy going in-store and learning about the different kinds of food. Alongside introducing kerbside collection during the pandemic, the business therefore started an online TV show, showcasing the different products displayed in-store and how to use them. The TV show has grown to a monthly format and now has its own studio in-store.

On a final note, all panellists agreed that actual customer face-to-face interaction within the shop cannot be replaced with technology. However, technology has the potential to get people into the doors and amplify service experiences.

Align with your staff

Staff are often at the core of retail and hospitality businesses. While some individuals might be keen to adopt new technologies, others might be more hesitant. This means that it’s important to understand different staff and their barriers. Technology that is not easily (or willingly) implemented by members of the team will present barriers between staff & customer interaction, affecting the brand experience.

To assess how efficiently staff may adopt technology, you can look at both their capability to use the technology, and their attitudes towards it.

Capability to use the technology:

  • Making new technology easy to use, as an extension of an existing service, is crucial. Will staff be able to use the technology? Do you need to use interactive training? Have you identified who may need more support?
  • Consider accessibility. Might there be language barriers, or barriers for individuals who have difficulty reading? Adding visuals, and possibly voice-overs, instead of relying on just words on displays might be helpful to make systems easier to use.


  • Do you know which members of staff might be ‘advocates’ of technology, and who might be averse? What language do you need to use to help them welcome new technology? Showing how the technology is there to help them achieve their aims can be useful in aligning aims and motives.
  • Where relevant, agree on core service delivery priorities. For example, when introducing an on-site food app there could be tensions between prioritising app orders and orders at the bar. If there are queues at the bar, staff will need to be comfortable with ‘ignoring’ people in those queues (at times) to also serve those ordering via the app. This can be a big change.

It will always be a new process

On a final note, even when prepared, introducing a new technology can still be a chaotic process. But as Debbie pointed out, “mistakes are flexible, so don’t be afraid to try”.

Tony from Greggs recounted how, following the introduction of the Natasha’s Law legislation, all Greggs stores needed to install printers and screens to print food labels for all packaging. This wasn’t a straight-forward plan at scale. The tech needed to be installed out of hours, to avoid disruption for customers, which meant that installation teams needed keys to each shop. In addition, simple issues arose around the need for enough sockets to support the increasing demand for tech in a shop. However, despite all these challenges the technology in the end has added tremendous value and is a foundation for many new initiatives.

Accessing digital support

While introducing technology can be a chaotic process, there is help available. This event was part of our Digital Pathfinders programme, which provides free support to organisations in the North of Tyne to help them understand and implement digital technology. The programme is funded by the North of Tyne Combined Authority and Digital Catapult, and delivered in partnership with Generator, VONNE and Steam Digital.

As part of this support, we’ve partnered with Newcastle City Council on the Digital Tech Resilience Grant. This match-fund helps organisations part-cover their costs toward a new technology, reducing the risk of investment.

For more information, get in touch with our team via hello@digitalpathfinders.uk

Further Information links

About Digital Pathfinders. Digital Pathfinders helps SMEs, charities and social enterprises across Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland become more successful and resilient by adopting digital technology. Visit the Digital Pathfinders website

About Greggs. Greggs is the UK’s leading bakery food-on-the-go retailer with over 1,800 shops nationwide and serving over six million customers a week. Greggs stands for great tasting, freshly prepared food that customers can trust, at affordable prices. Greggs aims to become the customers’ favourite for food-on-the-go. Visit the Greggs website

About the Pineapple Room. The Pineapple Room provides a complete wardrobe overhaul and style consultation helping clients to reinvent their existing wardrobe and add in those complimentary pieces. Its mission is to enable clients to dress with confidence and make them feel the best they can about their outfit choices every day. Visit The Pineapple Room website

About Spark EPoS. SPARK delivers Hospitality Management Software – encompassing electronic point of sale (EPOS), Reservations, Loyalty & Customer Relationship, and Online Marketing Tools all in one package. Experience ultra-modern, intuitive software design and sleek hardware, including customer-facing screens, designed to bring interactivity to the forefront of the customer’s experience. Visit the Spark EPoS website

About Turnbull’s Foods. Situated in the heart of rural Northumberland, Turnbull’s of Alnwick is a sixth generation, award winning family butchers, established in 1880 by Roger Turnbull. The business prides itself on selling the highest quality meats, sourcing their Beef & Lamb from the local auction mart at Acklington, while their pigs are sourced from local Abattoirs. Poultry and Game is, where ever possible, local and always British. Visit Turnbull’s Foods website