Blockchain could be the answer to helping retailers share data with parties who do not fully trust each other, believes Oracle’s innovation strategy director.

It has been a privilege to present my thoughts on the future of blockchain in retail at Retail Week Tech. and the FT Future of Retail Summit over the past two weeks, alongside a great set of keynote speakers from all the major retailers and brands.

At both events there was a clear theme throughout: digital transformation, digital revolution and digital everything is crucial to the future of retail.

Technology is clearly the key differentiator for all retailers now and in the future. Over the past few months there have been some mega mergers, partnerships and non-partnerships announced – many of these with technology-led retailers:

  • Amazon entered the US and UK grocery markets when it purchased Whole Foods
  • Amazon bought a stake in Indian grocery chain More, which has 540 stores
  • Kroger and Casino announced a joint venture with online retailer Ocado
  • Tesco acquired wholesaler Booker
  • Asda is on course to merge with Sainsbury’s in the UK, with global giant Walmart holding a significant shareholding in the new group
  • Tesco has sealed a strategic alliance with Carrefour for its buying and sourcing

One area I believe is a major challenge for these new relationships is trust – retailers have historically lacked trust in each other, which has led to a lack of data sharing and partnerships.

Blockchain technology can help retailers to develop trust in a trustless world. One of the main benefits of blockchain technology is to help share data with parties who do not fully trust each other.

The basic premise of an enterprise blockchain is to share agreed data with agreed parties in a secure and transparent way.

The data to be shared is agreed via consensus by all parties and then uploaded to the blockchain where all parties can see it in near real time.

“The basic premise of an enterprise blockchain is to share agreed data with agreed parties in a secure and transparent way”

Let’s look at the Carrefour–Tesco strategic alliance. Tesco and Carrefour have set up a new team to look at the way they can buy centrally but retain confidentiality.

The team should look to use blockchain technology as its joint database, entering data from both existing retailer systems on to the blockchain where all parties will have access to the same data.

Changes, analysis and decisions can then be made using the blockchain data, and the actions can be entered into the blockchain either automatically via smart contracts or manually.

All parties, including suppliers if needed, can then see this information in real time and, using the consensus agreements, take the actions necessary for the benefit of both retailers.

Blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) and other emerging technologies are crucial to retail success – have a look at our blog for more information. 

Antony Welfare

Antony Welfare is innovation strategy director at Oracle