Brick-and-mortar is not dead thanks to retail technology
AI, IoT, and VR on the rise
Customers are in control
The shopping experience is what matters
Giants like Amazon, Walmart, and Alibaba are rapidly transforming the industry through retail technology advancements. To compete in today’s markets, all retailers must use technology to solve business processes and better satisfy customers. This surprisingly applies even more so to brick-and-mortar stores, thought to be a dying industry segment, not too long ago.
Technology investments and showcases by big name retailers such as the new AmazonGo, have publicized some of these trends. 2018 retail expos like this year’s National Retail Federation (NRF) Conference also heavily focused on the future of retail technology.
New retail expands on previous omnichannel trends. Coined by Jack Ma of Alibaba as “the integration of online, offline, logistics and data across a single value chain. Data collected is used to streamline processes and create more accurate customer profiles to personalized shopping experiences.
All the retail technology trends that follow are part of this New Retail industry sphere.
Retailers Are Tech Companies
2017 was a huge year for retailers like Amazon and Walmart in terms of tech. Both companies made advancements in automation, virtual reality, robotics, and IoT. AmazonGo launched with success and gained much tech and global news coverage. They have ramped up internal technology in logistics and operations, allowing for same day deliveries, and to take on the tough grocery delivery sector.
Walmart has made strides in technology to streamline its own internal processes as well as to create better buying experiences. Its own technology incubator Store No 8 was setup to create internal advancements in retail tech. They recently acquired virtual reality startup Spatialand, to build VR products for the retailers websites and physical stores. Walmart also internally uses tech like VR and AR for things like associate training.
It was heavily noted at NRF that for digital transformation to work, retailers must focus first on the transformation part, and then to figure out where digital fits in. IT has to be part of planning and strategy from the get-go. Tech should solve business processes, not simply make things look futuristic.
Omnichannel Commerce, Not Just E-Commerce
E-commerce itself will no longer survive and must be omnichannel. This gives retailers deeper customer insights across all sales channels. Shopping experiences can be heavily personalized based on collected customer data, everywhere they shop, whether it be mobile, online, or in-store.
Customers expect a consistent, seamlessly connected experience across physical stores, social media, point of sale, catalogs, ecommerce websites, and other channels. —from the time they start searching for a product, through purchases, all the way to returns.
Mobile Continues to Expand
This is not a new trend. The past couple years have seen dramatic rise in mobile shopping behavior, and the trend continues. Mobile applications and mobile pay have both contributed to mobile’s domination. New mobile innovations and improved security will show an increase in overall usage and more high value purchases being made on phones.
With major acceptance of mobile pay terminals, NFC pay points, and online transactions, contactless payments are becoming mainstream. China leads the world in mobile payments and may become the first cashless society driven by WeChat Pay and Alibaba’s Alipay. Further advancements such as facial recognition (#19 below) are already making payments possible without a device or card.
Retail Technology in Physical Stores
Brick-and-mortar stores are making a comeback despite many big-name retailers shutting doors on physical locations. Those that embrace retail technology and provide better shopping experiences will be the ones to stay standing.
For retail technology to improve the real-world shopping experience, it must solve problems, be scalable, and be as complete as possible. PepsiCo uses Bluetooth Low Energy beacons to send mobile coupons to customers at just the right time. This turns foot traffic into sales. In-store technology trends utilized include VR and AR, location-tools, IoT, voice activated assistance, and totally personalized shopping experiences based on collected big data.
Short-term, most of the technology in brick-and-mortar stores will be for collecting data and analyzing customer behavior. Long-term tech advancements will augment the shopping experience itself, based on collected data.
In Store Shopping Behavior
Personalizing a single customer’s shopping experience requires creating an accurate buyer profile and analyzing their shopping and real-world behavior. Most retailers use only mobile devices and display/kiosks to improve in-store experience. Using advanced technologies such as mPOSs, BLE beacons, and Near Field Communications can further improve the experience and allow for increased data intake. Data collected is used to create personal suggestions or to assist the customer in the best way.
Much of this analysis or computation will be done in the future, through machine learning or by Artificial Intelligence.
Personalization is maximized using AI to create a shopping experience using analytics and optimized inventory for each consumer. AI is also being used in call centers and customer service departments to improve retail experiences.
Retailers must put into place data management technology that can ingest and feed data to analytics. As AI improves operations and data, it itself becomes less expensive and easier to use. This in turn streamlines operations further as AI turns data into actionable insights.
Embedded AI “enables an innovative approach, changing the knowledge map from customer behavior to the characterization of its social context, potential needs and decision making”. It can help automate everything from customer service to low inventory re-orders based on holiday trends.
To further streamline operations AI is combined with the Internet of Things.
IoT and Streamlining Shopping
IoT stands to eliminate a chunk of customer decision making, with devices making purchasing decisions. Smart refrigerators are already ordering groceries and are not tempted by impulse buys. Retailers want to achieve one-click checkout for quick customer experiences. This is already possible by combining RFID tags with POS systems and connected sensors. AmazonGo has already launched a working model and the tech is seen all over China.
IoT also serves a great deal of uses behind the scenes for optimizing logistics, inventory purchases and management, manufacturing, and processing. It helps solve problems in efficiency and loss prevention.
Facial recognition, contactless payments, and other advancements will further streamline operations and shopping with IoT.
Voice Assistants with Conversational Commerce
Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are already performing numerous retail related tasks for customers, and this trend will grow. Consumers now can purchase items from the comfort of home just by asking. This gives retailers a personal interaction with customers and compels purchase.
Assistants will soon also be popping up on retail floors in the form of interactive displays and personal shopping assistants, as brick-and-mortar stores take advantage of conversational commerce.
Facial recognition is seen daily in the form of accessing your locked mobile phone, but it is taking shape as another retail tech trend. Walmart has applied for a facial recognition patent to measure customer satisfaction. Customers in China can pay for food at KFC with just a face scan. Other payment processors such as Union Pay have also jumped on board with facial recognition payments.
Customers Are More Demanding Than Ever
Consumers now want nothing less than “access to a wide selection of quality, low-priced goods—delivered how and when they want,” notes the Retail Without Limits report. Price still matters most to consumers, followed by quality, choice, and convenience.
Customer expectations are completely out of retailers’ control and hard to keep up with. People are willing discuss bad experiences through social media, but not willing to deal with customer service.
Companies must stay ahead of negative reviews and feedback by creating shopping experiences that delight and bring out the best in social talk.
An iPhone is both a product and a service. Product quality must be integrated with experience quality from the beginning of the purchase process, through after service support. Demanding customers must be satisfied every step of the way.
This is true for both on- and offline retail. Improving the process of buying must become a core strategy for retail owners, across all channels.
In-store experiences are now becoming more streamlined through IoT and other technologies, and becoming more fun and informative, through tech like AR and VR.
AR and VR Will Expand the Retail Experience
China is already digitally transforming the way people shop in person. Smart mirrors allow people to try on clothes and makeup. Retailer customers in pop-up T-malls can try on cloud products through RFID and AR, and then purchase them immediately through contactless Alipay QR codes.
These experiences attract new walk-by customers, provide value during the experience, showcase products in new exciting ways, and compel them to purchase. As these technologies advance and people begin to trust Augmented Reality overlays and fittings, we will be seeing more purchases of products like clothing from home.
Fast Delivery is a Must
Fast, instant shipping of unlimited product varieties is becoming the norm. Propagated by giants such as Amazon with its Prime same day delivery and food delivery services such as GrubHub providing access to any restaurant at any time. People now see free shipping as necessary and often choose the competitor that offers it. This will only increase as retail technologies such as IoT and AI improve inventory and logistics speed and efficiency.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is still seen as a top venue for marketing and advertising expenditures.
Amazon Marketing Services
Amazon Marketing Services also rank highly for 2018 acquisition marketing strategies.
Location Based Services
This goes way beyond the navigation app that takes you to the store. It aids in inventory processes and operational effectiveness. Logistics is streamlined through Data and product tracking. This allows for real time catalog and retail floor display updates, improving sales and retail experience value.
Blockchain is not just for cryptocurrencies. It is now showing its way onto the retail scene and showing powerful potential for the grocery industry. Through its decentralized ecosystem, it becomes easier to trace products to their origins and along their retail path. This can be useful in completing recalls of defective products and analyzing supply chain effectiveness. Test pilot projects are already being conducted through a partnership between Walmart and IBM along with leading brands such as Kroger, Nestle, and Dole.
Cryptocurrencies are now being analyzed along with blockchain for potential benefits in the retail industry. Retailers see it as able to ease currency issues and cross border transactions. Rakuten has recently announced its new ‘borderless currency’ the Rakuten Coin. It hopes it will help with its international growth and brand recognition. They are also integrating their reward system into blockchain and its Rakuten Coin. Other retailers worldwide are also experimenting with cryptocurrency payments.
Technology advancements will also help retail employees at their jobs and in their own job satisfaction. Retail employees will become more informed and be able to increase their effectiveness in making sales and customer satisfaction. As data about customer profiles is more easily accessible in real-time, shop floor workers can best help a customer select a product they will purchase. Retail managers will better optimize their stores for sales through data analysis and AI aided decisions.
Security and Privacy
Consumers are more willing to purchase online and through retail technology, but are still wary of privacy and security. Credit card and personal information must be taken seriously by retailers. Companies are increasingly investing in secure POS systems, fraud prevention tools, and data management with encryption.
Customer for Life
Loyalty and returning customers is still the name of the game. These technology advancements are set in place to provide the perfect shopping experience and product, at the perfect time. As shopping experiences continue to improve, customers become more loyal to the experiences they enjoy, creating customers for life.