• Linda Ellett, Partner |
  • Ian West, Partner |
4 min read

There’s no doubt that quantum computing will be a major game-changer in the years to come – but what will it have to offer retail and consumer goods businesses?

In simple terms, quantum computers can perform vast amounts of computations in parallel at the same time and at incredible speed. They might be able to compute something in a few seconds that would take a classical computer literally thousands of years to do. The power and difference is mind-boggling. Tasks such as cryptography, modelling and customer database indexing are well suited to it – or anything that requires huge computing power running across vast amounts of data and combinations of data.

It’s coming on at pace, too. The UK government has committed to invest heavily in quantum computing to make the country a global leader in the field. In fact, through the National Quantum Technologies Programme, the £1 billion investment mark was passed in 2019 and late last year the UK government announced that the UK’s first quantum computer to be commercially available to business will be launched in Oxfordshire. In the coming decades, productivity gains resulting from quantum computing are expected to surpass £341 billion globally – resulting in new jobs, skills and knowledge across the UK.

Coming to a store near you?

So, what about the retail and consumer sectors? Well, there are certainly some clear use cases for it. As the sector looks towards increasingly personalised outcomes for individual consumers, quantum computing could process data sets envisioned but not feasible at the current time to provide real-time consumer insights. Another use case would be in optimisation of supply chains and fleet management, looking at accurately predicting weather and climate outcomes to cover everything from footfall and consumption, through to supply shortages. These models are available currently, but as data availability increases then quantum would enable increasingly detailed and accurate modelling.

A different future

The retail and grocery sectors are being heavily disrupted. In 10 years’ time how we shop for our food and household items will look very different. The successful players will understand and deliver to the digitally-enabled and digitally-understood consumer, who is shopping omni-channel and multi-modal. With groceries we might pick up our fresh fruit in-store and grab a coffee at the supermarket café, meanwhile we’ve already got the full weekly shop ordered online and the supermarket has prepared subscription items based on our prior habits. Perhaps we are also presented with our full shop based on the dietary aims we have, and the health data shared with the grocer from our fitness tracker, calorie app and latest health check-up.  All of this requires vast volumes of data to be accessed, cleaned, processed, combined and then used to deliver the most compelling consumer proposition.  

As a sector we have a toe in the water. Quantum will enable us to go swimming in this and turn the vision of an industry into a reality. 

Track the risks and opportunities

We have to be realistic that most retailers, grocers and consumer businesses, as well wholesalers and suppliers, are still dealing with pandemic disruption, changing consumer habits, regulations on health, data privacy and more. Most, though not all, are operating on thin margins and it is not feasible to put extensive time or capital towards an emerging technology. 

However, all businesses need to keep an eye on quantum computing, and the sector is no exception. Our advice would be - as an absolute minimum, make sure someone in your business has “regularly reviewing risks and opportunities from quantum” in their objectives, and include it in the risk register and strategy reviews too. Quantum presents exciting growth and margin opportunities, but there is also a significant risk in terms of data and privacy – quantum computers will be able to crack existing encryption codes meaning all the personal data held on customers could be exposed. 

For those businesses with an ability to invest, be ready to find a use case to start from when the technology gets there – for example, could an alcbev business use personalised health data to design the perfect blend for taste, health and buzz for each individual consumer? As a few businesses learn and experiment, the whole sector can benefit - so we do need those who are able to, to do so.

Four takeaways

Our four top recommendations for businesses are:

  1. Assess your business challenges – what problems have you been unable to solve with classic computer systems? Think beyond use cases already developed – what could you reimagine with quantum?
  2. Embark on a quantum learning curve – seminars, workshops, online courses, simulators and software development kits are available now. Charge a team with deepening the understanding within the business.
  3. Evaluate your existing IT infrastructure – quantum computers will supplement, not replace, existing computing systems. Think about how quantum could integrate with your existing IT architecture.
  4. Address your ongoing data security – you could be affected by quantum computing even if you don’t plan to leverage it in your business.

We want to hear your views too. If you would like to discuss what quantum computing means for your business, please get in touch with us.