There is no doubt that the retail sector has suffered enormously in the past year, as 2020 turned the retail world on its head, global brands had the opportunity to explore the potential of e-commerce with some experiencing it for the first time ever and consumers learning to engage with brands in a whole new way.
What Comes Next? Transforming Retail Spaces With Digitally-led Smart Stores Designed for the 21st Century
This has paved the way for 2021 which we believe is going to be transformative and marks the beginning to usher in a new era for the retail industry. Retail store today account for billions of sq. ft of physical space, employing millions of people as store staff and retail as an industry is probably the one that employs more people than any other sector. As e-commerce starts to grow, many of these stores and employees are increasingly underutilized for much of the week, except on weekends due to high rush in footfalls, making the brick-and-mortar retail spaces ripe for digitalization.
This is where virtual technology comes in that is about to disrupt the entire industry and become the next big frontier for retail in the current decade. Over the last 3 years, India has been witnessing a host of many startups and tech companies using AR, VR and other immersive technologies that mimic IRL (in real life) experiences. From Lenskart using 3D face mapping to Caratlane and FYND that use AI for virtual try-ons and AR is transforming the brand-customer relationship. Companies that have incorporated AR into their marketing strategies have seen up to 40 percent higher conversions. However, the application of VR is yet to be seen in retail and a workable use-case of immersive technology in fashion on a large scale basis has not been witnessed. And yet there are some really cool startups like Bigthinx who are pushing the boundaries of technology in fashion solving the eternal problem of size and fit using AI-driven 3D body scanning and virtual avatar try-ons.
While all this hi-tech stuff is great, what a lot of folks are missing is that all these features are good to have but unfortunately not a must-have. The must-have is the biggest problem today for retailers looking to digitise their business and prepare themselves not just for the post-COVID world but most importantly the post 5G world where all of a sudden data connectivity will increase at an unimaginable pace that will drive busy modern-day convenience seeking consumers to explore online alternatives to in-store physical shopping experiences, or maybe interact with the stores prior to visiting them physically to save time.
Now if you think about it for a moment, the technology today already exists to solve this problem, well maybe it's not very efficient but few tech-savvy retailers are already using a combination of multiple third-party apps like WhatsApp and zoom calls to video conference with customers, use billing apps to send invoices, payment apps to receive UPI transfers, some of them have even hosted their own website on Shopify or other e-commerce platforms, etc. But because it's hard and time-consuming - their mass adoption has not kept pace with.
Although there is one promising young company based out of Mumbai and Vadodara that is trying to address this problem. Their product GetNatty.Live is - a virtual shopping app designed for every brand and retailer to bring the human touch to online shopping. The app enables brands to create an in-store like virtual shopping experience that is as close to a real-life moment where consumers can connect with brands and their representatives directly to get a personalised shopping experience tailored to their needs. Through chat, and live streaming and audio notes, brands can give online shoppers the comfort to buy digitally, in their preferred language, without the need to visit the store or download any app - all while growing their engagements to 57 percent and boosting sales conversions to 9 percent.
The Future of Retail is Virtual: Blurring the Lines Between Physical and Digital to Create Immersive Experiences
The ‘death of the high-street’ has been touted since the 1970s, but physical stores have survived because the shoppers still want that human connection. While the world is going digital, the ability to build human connections is always going to be tantamount to a brand's success story and no AI or bot or any other form of technology can change that fact. The future of retail belongs to those companies that are building technology that can empower and enable those deep human connections and personal interactions rather than thinking of replacing them. By giving a virtual shopping experience to customers at the comfort of their mobile phone, not only can brands stay ahead of the game but also give their business an ability to have a sustained future.