In the age of experiences, technology has not just penetrated spaces ensuring the customer experience is key, but it has also revolutionized the way end-to-end business operations are conducted. While shopping has been around since history itself, the way we shop evolved dramatically with the rise of e-commerce. Digital Darwinism played a critical role in pushing companies to adopt technology and take the buying-selling experience to the next level by connecting with customers emotionally.
10 New-Age technology trends that are crafting the future of retail are:
Existing ‘on the edge’, cloud computing moves a step closer to customers. As the quantity of data organizations deal continues to expand, these mini data-centres, developed close to where computing is happening, solve the delay of cloud computing. It helps retailers take advantage of cutting-edge technologies, like IoT, AI, and ML, to process time-sensitive data in remote locations that have limited access to a centralized location. It also helps to better understand consumer behavior by gathering real-time insights into how shoppers are likely to behave in-store and online, thus extending the lifespan of physical stores in this time of fierce competition with e-commerce.
IoT (Internet of Things)
Brands like Amazon and luxury brands like Saint Laurent and Rebecca Minkoff are redesigning the brand experience by finding new ways of building a connection with customers. IoT is breaking the barrier between brand, product and customer. All items we use daily can be interconnected through Wifi to be able to exchange data, track customer habits, create short and direct journey maps in order to improve product performance and build long-lasting bonds with shoppers. When it’s time to design a new lineup, all the gathered data can be used to enhance customized services. By connecting the warehouse and store, retailers can manage inventory distribution more effectively and decrease the workload needed for running a store.
Artificial intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning (ML)
Leading retailers like Carrefour, Zulily and The Home Depot rely on Google Cloud AI and ML products to transform their business. In e-commerce, the use of customised ML technology significantly improves customer experience, increases engagement and impacts conversion through multiple touch-points such as voice, wearables, and kiosks. Brands can leverage the power of ‘Recommended Engines’ on their websites to increase sales by presenting highly personalized offers, making the user feel known and understood. Heightening visual search allows customers to search via uploading an image where keyword search is difficult. Virtual/ Smart Assistants and Chatbots interact with customers to simulate a human conversation and in-store assistance on mobile apps guide customers to the required aisle, saving shopper’s time and energy.
Big Data Analytics
Information is the power. Global CPG company, PepsiCo relies on huge volumes of diverse data for efficient supply chain management. It helps the brand gain a deeper understanding of trends, associations and patterns. Digital and mobile technologies are so pervasive that shoppers are now making more informed decisions than ever. This provides lucrative growth opportunities for global brands to improve customer satisfaction and experience. Utilizing click-stream data, web analytics, heatmap studies and customer journey analytics, retailers can optimize products, landing pages and supply chains to ensure greater engagement, more loyalty and higher conversions. They can do better risk management and improve performance by discovering insights that were hidden earlier.
Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR)
Luxury brands like Hugo Boss, Zara, and Dior are transforming shopping experience by providing customers the ability to visualize products in real life. Virtual Mirrors bring shoppers hybrid experiences that cross-over between the physical and digital interaction and is more immersive and attractive. Cosmetic boutiques let them virtually try products and suggest accessories and related clothes, providing a more involved and enticing engagement. Virtual Fitting Rooms create customer avatars from their photos to create customized recommendations. Home in-store experience, ‘Try Before You Buy’ model, helps them understand what they are paying for before they buy it.
When it comes to faster deliveries, drones assist retailers in cutting costs, saving time, and enhancing customer experience. Big retailers like Amazon and Alibaba are testing drones for delivery and they can extend service to areas where transportation by road is difficult, e.g. mountainous, treacherous, remote areas, rural communities and in emergency situations. Drones can also assist retailers with indoor inventory management to locate and measure inventory faster. Aerial drones, with cameras, enable retailers to record and capture customer behavior and movement, which can be used in rearranging the order of products, changing the floor space and improving shelf layouts.
Automation is not new, however, warehouses and factories are under pressure to innovate against the growing competition in e-commerce. Forward-thinking companies, like Amazon and Walmart, leveraged the power of robotics to achieve interoperability, autonomy, mobility and better customer service as these become key differentiating areas for gaining competitive advantage. Robots are becoming the first customer touchpoint in retail outlets and they are being infused into every stage of the value chain to fuel sustainable growth. Stores use robots not only to achieve close to 100 percent accuracy in identifying stock levels but also to lower manpower costs. From logistics and supply chains to back-office operations, store operations, merchandising and sales, robotics drive innovation and help boost top and bottom-line outcomes.
Robotics Process Automation (RPA)
With the ever-increasing challenges in the retail industry, brands have a daunting task to achieve seamless operational excellence in repetitive processes such as inventory management, returns processing, customer relationship management, invoice creation and business reporting. RPA automates tasks with more precision and better quality. Automating business and sales analytics help in faster access to exhaustive reports with real-time insights to support stock optimization, price modification, production and stocking in close agreement with the customers’ preferences. End-to-end automation and RPA in the supply chain can improve collaboration between suppliers, customers and distributors.
‘Cybercriminals’ are becoming more sophisticated and increasingly automated with each passing year. E-commerce is already the main target for cyber-attacks as consumers’ personally identifiable information (PII) and linked payment details are used for making transactions. Secure payment gateways technologies, in addition to SSL protocols and PCI compliance, like tokenization and CAPTCHA response tests are increasingly being used to prevent identification threats.
Blockchain technology, although still nascent in the retail industry, helps retailers benefit from the transparency, trust and transactional efficiency it builds in the system. Retail giants Walmart and Alibaba are using it to actively track inventory and secure transactions. As a network technology, blockchain links all transactions with each other in the network and stores them on multiple devices making it almost impossible to be manipulated. Cross-border shipments and cryptocurrencies are slowly becoming popular on blockchain as there are lesser chances of fraud and cheating.
Retail has been one of the most captivating and fastest-growing industries in the recent past. The millennial shoppers look beyond buying and selling, they expect a surreal shopping experience. Technologies that have the potential to provide that will pave the way for future innovations and keep delighting customers. A content customer guarantees a successful brand and a brand that establishes such deep emotional bonds with its customer will always stay ahead of the curve in acknowledging their ever-evolving needs.