From pandemic-induced disruption to rapidly changing consumer patterns, the retail industry has undergone a significant reorganization in recent years. The exponential growth of e-tailing has led several traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to diversify their services and offer omnichannel buying options, such as social media and Buy Online Pick-up In-Store (BOPIS). The offline sector has faced significant disruption, as footfall reduced dramatically due to the pandemic. Increasingly, we are also seeing customer experiences as being key to staying ahead of the competition. In competitive markets, retailers must not only focus on being profitable but also on delivering excellent and personalized customer experiences to ensure sustainable business growth.
From customer experiences to supply chains, here are some tech trends that are likely to dominate retail in 2022.
Experiential Retail through Augmented and Virtual Reality
The narrative surrounding retail has now changed to prioritize not just sales, but also the entire customer experience. Customers are drawn not just to high-quality products, but also to retail experiences that evoke a feel-good feeling. The rise of the term ‘retail therapy' also reflects this. The rise of online retail has created a need to create immersive and personalized experiences in virtual settings. The rise of technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality has made it possible to replicate offline experiences in online settings. The Metaverse has become a buzzword, with experts predicting a future where customers can visit their favorite stores, browse the shelves, enter trial rooms and purchase their items of choice, all while sitting in the comfort of their rooms. Other examples of the same include furniture stores allowing customers to see how the items they pick look in their actual homes, and eyewear brands allowing customers to virtually try on their products before buying them.
Personalized Shopping Experiences
From push notifications that begin with the customer’s name to a customer service executive handing you a cup of tea while you are clothes shopping - customer experiences play an important role in improving brand recall and creating a community of loyal customers. The best brands don’t view the customer experience as a transactional one, but rather, strive to create a community that then becomes advocates for the same. Today, AI algorithms enable the prediction of a customer’s exact preferences and previous buying patterns to deliver personalized recommendations. Chat-bots too can add a personal touch to the online shopping experience and enable real-time resolution of queries or issues. Understanding the various customer touchpoints and using AI-equipped analytics and customization can help create a personalized and memorable customer experience.
Autonomous Last-Mile Delivery
The recent e-commerce boom and the need for quicker delivery times to stay competitive have created the need for retailers to re-evaluate and optimize their last-mile delivery strategy. Autonomous mobility has gained significant importance in this regard. While this is at a relatively nascent stage in India, research and deployment are scaling at a rapid pace, with the Budget 2022 too involving a focus on Drone as a service. We can expect to see significant growth in forms of autonomous mobility like drones and last-mile delivery robots in the coming years. Technologies like deep learning can enable autonomous systems to successfully navigate a host of scenarios and enable faster and safer delivery of packages.
Customer Experience Analytics
Retailers are increasingly realizing the importance of data analytics in building profitable, resilient, and scalable businesses. AI-equipped analytics provide actionable insights from each touchpoint across the sales funnel, enabling retailers to not just deliver customized experiences, but also engage in sentiment analysis to enable product-market fit for new products. For instance, NLP-based tools can analyze voice on customer service calls to create insights on consumer sentiment, which can then be analyzed for a better understanding of the target market and personalized customer service to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
As an influx of new brands enters the market and consumption patterns rapidly change, retailers must strike a balance between the need to refresh inventory at a rapid pace, while also minimizing dead stock and wastage. A digital transformation wave has overtaken every sector, and retail too has been no exception. Various new technologies have changed the way businesses do business, and in several cases, retailers are forced to either digitalize their operations or shut shop. By incorporating the latest technological advancements into their operations, retailers can ensure that they stay ahead of the curve, rather than constantly trying to catch up with competitors and facing losses as a result. One thing is for sure - technology will revolutionize the retail industry in the coming years, and businesses that take advantage of the same can emerge as market leaders.