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Retail Ideas From Across the Pond 

Not a day goes by without another innovation being announced in the tidal wave of new technologies affecting each of us. Over the past few years, the blockchain has increasingly been used in the supply process – in particular when the tracking of products is important. But today, with Web3, NFTs, crypto and the metaverse, it’s getting harder for retail management to keep up with the Joneses. To help you do so, we take a look at how some European retailers are innovating or adapting in this respect.  

The European Commission Sets the Stage 

While Europe is made up of many countries, the European Commission plays a major role in the coordination of technological roll-out, through its Directorate-General of Communications Networks, Content & Technology.  

A recent workshop organized by the EU Blockchain Observatory & Forum, set up by the European Commission, saw Antonis Polemitis, CEO IFF, University of Nicosia, cautioning European players on the importance of countering the evident strength of U.S. players at the “helm” of the blockchain and the metaverse. He called for the metaverse to have an open architecture, using the blockchain and NFTs as some of its working tools.  

 “A concern is that the view towards blockchain and cryptocurrency is predominantly from an anti-money laundering (AML) and consumer safety perspective. While these are valid discussion subjects, Europe’s digital sovereignty seems pivotal in a future where a large percentage of the economy, society and personal interactions will take place in persistent digital spaces,” said Polemitis. “There are more issues to address like constitutional, accessibility, economics and surveillance. The eminent decision lies on a closed metaverse dominated by American companies or a metaverse following open and interoperable standards. For instance, Linux is an open-source option in place of the Windows system.” 

According to Polemitis, the metaverse is inevitable and more uses will emerge in the future, adding that it is an exciting subject for computing, but a huge incentive for the European Union lies in deciding its format. 

Alexander Whalen, the public policy manager for EU Affairs in Meta, says the technology has major potential, but the roll-out will take some time. “The purpose of Meta is not to substitute in-person experiences, as nothing will beat that, but for digital interaction to get better and more meaningful,” he said, adding that the estimation for the metaverse and its improvements is to be realized over the next decade.  

Whalen said that the evolutions with the metaverse are not going to be based solely on the U.S., but will indeed impact Europe. He added that the current transition to the digital world is cumbersome; especially compared to augmented reality with the use of mobiles; as headsets are a requirement for virtual worlds. The vision is, he says, to improve this aspect and provide a more seamless way to connect to virtual worlds.  

MediaMarktSaturn Expands Crypto Kiosks into Germany 

Staying ahead of the game means taking a leap of faith when it comes to providing new services. To this end, in cooperation with crypto vending machine specialists Kurant, Germany-based MediaMarktSaturn is offering a customer-oriented service that makes it easier for its customers to enter the digital world.  

As part of a six-month pilot project, Saturn customers can exchange their cash for the two popular cryptocurrencies Bitcoin and Ethereum in the three markets of Cologne, Dortmund and Frankfurt am Main. After extensive studies, the locations were selected based on the affinity for cryptocurrencies in the surrounding regions. The process is simple. After a one-off initial registration online, the customer loads a wallet app onto his or her smartphone. In the next step, the amount is selected at the machine. The app then creates a QR code — the address of the wallet. The code is scanned at the machine, the desired amount is paid in cash and the corresponding bitcoin amount is credited to the digital wallet. 

Christian Stephan, head of innovation research at the MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group said, “The demand for cryptocurrencies is enormous — our technology-loving customers in particular are very interested in Bitcoin and Ethereum. The Bitcoin ATMs therefore fit perfectly into our service portfolio. Regardless of whether you are a crypto professional or a newcomer, with the Kurant machines, we offer our customers a quick and easy way to buy bitcoins while they are shopping.” 

The rollout follows an already successful test-run of similar kiosks by the retailer in Austria.  

Fnac Darty Partners with Google for Data and Cloud Services  

A new data-centric partnership between French electrical retailer Fnac Darty and Google is set to accelerate the group’s digital transformation at a time when commerce is undergoing radical change. In a statement, Fnac Darty say the move will increase the group’s innovation capabilities through data and offer customers enhanced products, services and experiences. 

The deal involves the deployment of the Google Cloud Retail Search solution on fnac.com and darty.com websites, making Fnac Darty the first retailer in France to implement this new solution. The goal is to improve website performance by creating a “smoother process for customers to search for and discover products, and by making results more relevant.” 

Integration of data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence means the technology will — according to a Fnac Darty spokesman — help improve operational efficiency and customer experience, as well as support the group’s innovation on new services.  

 “As a committed player, we care about our customers and want to help them make informed decisions,” said Enrique Martinez, CEO of Fnac Darty. “Through this collaboration on data and cloud with Google, which is the first of its kind in the French retail sector, our customers will enjoy a more fluid, customized and distinctive online shopping experience. It will improve the performance of our websites through an AI-driven web experience that is ever more immersive and effective. As a result, the partnership will allow us to accelerate our digital transformation and continue to deliver on our everyday plan.” 

EU Legislation Set to Pave the Way for “Safer” NFT Rollout 

The question of whether NFTs will begin appearing in European electrical retail (they are already available via some luxury goods specialists) remains to be seen. Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) may have made headlines after celebrities spent millions on unique digital artworks, but NFTs have wider applications than online art. Video gamers use the technology to buy accessories for virtual characters, and an active market has developed for online racing, where players can buy racehorses or cars as NFTs and are able to win big in virtual races – with prizemoney in crypto of course. This year, the European car maker Alpine – part of the Renault group – innovated by creating unique NFT art cars – which sold for tens of thousands of Euros to gamers who race them online on the REVV Motorsport metaverse platform. All cars using the platform are NFTs and all play sessions are registered on blockchain — but the game looks and plays like the 3D car racing games that are played on a console or PC. 

In June this year, the European Council presidency and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on the markets in crypto-assets (MiCA) proposal which covers issuers of unbacked crypto-assets, and so-called “stablecoins,” as well as the trading venues and the wallets where crypto-assets are held.  

This regulatory framework will protect investors and preserve financial stability, while allowing innovation and fostering the attractiveness of the crypto-asset sector. It will, according to the Council, bring more clarity in the European Union, as some member states already have national legislation for crypto-assets but so far there has been no specific regulatory framework at EU level. 

According to Bruno Le Maire, French Minister for the economy, finance and industrial and digital sovereignty, “Recent developments on this quickly evolving sector have confirmed the urgent need for an EU-wide regulation. MiCA will better protect Europeans who have invested in these assets, and prevent the misuse of crypto-assets, while being innovation-friendly to maintain the EU’s attractiveness. This landmark regulation will put an end to the crypto wild west and confirms the EU’s role as a standard-setter for digital topics.” 

The metaverse et al is only beginning its journey, with components gradually being built. In Europe, the key players have realized it’s vital to stay ahead of the game and the “speak the language” — something any visitors to Europe will understand is part and parcel of the local culture.