business

Tech Trends 2018: The New Look and Feel of Retail

Innovations you need to know well

It’s all too easy to approach tech like tapas. Many retailers have piloted innovations on a one-by-one basis, testing here and there without realizing the advantages of a fully connected tech ecosystem. In 2018, retailers are primed for a more holistic view—one in which each piece of technology can amplify another.

The first step is a solid cloud foundation that connects disparate systems and sources of data across all channels. The integration allows a deep analysis of business processes and a 360 degree view of the customer—all in real-time. It also eases the process of adding new layers of technology such as AR, AI and Blockchain, which makes use of this data, promoting an agile business that doesn’t just keep up with customers, but anticipates and exceeds their expectations before they even know them. Below is a snapshot of how retailers are working towards enhancing customer experience with innovative technologies.

AR/VR: augmenting product trial and in-store experience

Augmented Reality is far more than an awe factor in-store. Now, it’s a legitimate way of enhancing—and expediting—trial for customers. QVC, among others, has found a way for customers to try on makeup without actually applying it, thanks to their partnership with the YouCam Makeup app.

Virtual Reality, of course, is more immersive, giving retailers the opportunity to transport their customers to different environments in which their products can be used. For example Yosemite National Park, thanks to NorthFace’s in-store experience. VR can also be used to model the efficacy of different store layouts before any actual build happens, contributing to better flow, better paths to conversion, and more.   

Curbside commerce: bringing purchases to the car

Retailers are evolving curbside pickup to test order placement right from one’s car. During testing, Target’s Drive Up app saw a 10% increase in orders. Others have also explored the idea of parking space reservations while customers are in transit.

Grocers have found that owning this tech may be more advisable than outsourcing, based on cost and margin pressures.   

Multisensory: dressing up the physical space  

Retailers are still very aware of the physical store as an opportunity to drive brand intrigue. L’Occitane has built a new Canadian boutique that includes a six-foot high, curved video wall, automated “rain shower” sinks, and an installation that evokes sunlight—all contributing to a transportive store visit.  

AI: knowing one’s customers down to a tee

The undisputed value of artificial intelligence is leveraging data, which is a path to stellar customer service. AI is the new lifeblood of retail. It gives store associates the power to know their customers’ preferences intimately, and it enhances chatbots with higher intuition and empathy. It helps retailers better understand the supply chain (from warehouse to store), and it helps optimize storefront and in-store layout for improved product discovery and one-to-one interaction with associates.

In Thailand, 7-Elevens are equipped with facial recognition, so that regular customers are quickly identified and can be offered product suggestions based on time of day, previous buying history, and more.        

BOPIS: making in-store pickup and returns more fluid than ever

For customers who “Buy Online and Pickup In-Store,” the leading theme is convenience. Retailers can honor this with everything from self-checkout apps to 24-hour locker retrieval to AI-powered recommendations for incremental purchases. BOPIS and BORIS (returns) both present an enormous opportunity for incremental sales and for elevated customer service.     

Robots: working alongside humans to improve efficiency

To assist employees in item fulfillment, Zara has empowered robots with the ability to retrieve items and deliver them right to a drop box. And they don’t just live in the warehouse. Robots that fill prescriptions have already taken up posts in the pharmacy, freeing pharmacists to devote their energy to customer advice and overall satisfaction. The focus of robotics, for the moment, is largely on manual tasks to enable a more efficient human workforce.      

Mobile: putting their money where their thumbs are

Mobile is a huge portal for both product exploration and purchase, and websites and apps need to be optimized accordingly. Retailers are also going all-in on conversational commerce. Chatbots are rapidly evolving to not only handle customer service but transactions and even image recognition. Mode.ai has worked with retailers like 1-800-Flowers to build a powerful bot that lets users start a transaction and finish it whenever they like. It lets users send images of outfits they like and then finds brand items that are a close match.     

Blockchain: improving visibility and reliability

Blockchain is a lot more than cryptocurrency. It’s a system of transparency for all parties involved—especially when it comes to retail. Blockchain gives retailers a fully accurate picture of every point along the supply chain, helping them avoid hiccups in inventory. Australian tech company Shping has a blockchain-powered app that helps customers learn more about products (and earn crypto credits) in-aisle while allowing brands to serve them location-specific promotions.     

Bringing retail closer to people’s everyday experience.

As more and more human actions migrate to digital channels, it’s becoming increasingly possible for retailers to sync with their customers’ lives, mirroring how they interact with the rest of their world. Clearly, AI is laying the groundwork for an infinitely better understanding of each consumer’s perspective. And with all of this data stored securely in the cloud, retailers can be more flexible and responsive than ever, scaling new product development and tailoring both the digital and in-store experience to deliver the best customer service ever seen. The cloud is the connective thread of customer experience.   

Which tech innovation do you see having the deepest impact on retail in 2018?

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