Contrast the experience of the shoppers until just a few years ago to the kind of experience some brands manage to offer today: quick, intuitive tech has replaced the tedium of standing in long checkout lines, complicated online checkout processes, and erratic online shopping experiences. Today technology has made the buying experience, streamlined, fast, stressfree and user-friendly.
Technologies such as RFID to read barcodes, beacon-based functionalities to locate stores and intuitive tools to help people find exactly what they are looking for, have transformed shopping into that which, until some years ago, we could have envisaged only in Sci-Fi fiction! In the near future, cashierless stores, driverless cars, and 3D manufacturing are also going to become realities and transform the way we shop! We predict that 2018 is going to be transformative for retail buyers thanks to some or all of these technologies, which either are already in use or are being refined for wider and more effective application:
Artificial Intelligence– Embedded into online stores, AI helps personalize shopper experiences, generates search results with precise accuracy. AI can also help reduce costs by obviating the need for models, photographers, and a studio to create quality product images. AI can help retailers and brands make accurate predictions to help with merchandising and capacity planning. One instance of effective AI application is the outdoor wear brand North Face’s use of IBM’s Watson’s Cognitive Computing tech that helped refine the shopping experience. Data collected from 55,000 users indicated a 60% click-through rate and 75% total sales conversions due to the computing tech that initiated a customer conversation to help determine exact product requirements.
Augmented reality– Helping create a real-world atmosphere is another aspect that augments shopping experience. Cosmetic brands such as L’Oreal have most effectively adapted this tech to the online store experience. The Makeup Genius app brought the AR experience to shoppers; permitting them ‘try out’ makeup on their handheld devices to make a better choice. In times to come, more brands and varied products will tap the potential of this tech.
Facial recognition– The obvious uses for retail are many here: stores can help personalize the shopping experience based on collected data about the shopper’s gender, age, ethnicity and other details. There are diverse ways to apply facial recognition into the retail space; one example being an FR based system called ‘Smile to Pay’ installed in a KFC outlet in China; which was used to measure user satisfaction. While cultural and privacy concerns remain, tech refinement may be able to address these concerns effectively in times to come.
Blockchain– The ever-growing ‘blocks’ of records employing cryptography are predicted to find their place in 2018, according to Forbes. Blockchain tech is already moving the needle for product manufacturers and sellers in terms of increasing transparency, penetrating emerging markets, maintaining virtual warranty wallets and enhancing global supply chains. In the insurance space, for instance, blockchain application can assist in parametric insurance, peer-to-peer insurance, and microinsurance.
Wearable tech–Smartglasses, smartwatches, wearable scanners, wearable cameras and ‘hearables’ are transforming retail, and have the potential to further revolutionize the space and customer behaviors. At a time when e-commerce is diverting customers from bricks and mortar stores, wearable tech holds the potential to redirect buyers to physical stores. Data relating to location, body temperature and motion can also help refine decision-making and the overall user experience. The GoInStore’s application lets customers ‘browse’ without having to go into a store; while still receiving any personal assistance required. The Pinnacle Response wearable camera helps with crime detection and control while wearables such as Onyx by Orion labs helps workers communicate and deal with customer requests effectively.
RFID – Radio frequency identification, which has been the default system for billing at checkout counters for many years, also helps address security concerns by offering elegant solutions against shoplifting. It helps track inventory and is a hugely important tool for consumer research. Brands such as Amazon Go have already incorporated the use of RFID in the way that they permitted customers to make purchases off shelves and leave without actually checking out of the store. Purchases are charged to the buyer’s Amazon account, who receives a digital receipt of payment. Such examples of practical use of RFID to ease the shopping experience are only going to increase in times to come.
Virtual /Digital assistants– The use of this tech to enhance buyer experience is at a nascent stage but presents exciting possibilities particularly when leveraged by AI.The expected demand for these automated software apps and platforms will double in2018 and possibly garner 1.6 billion active users by the year 2020. Features such as natural language interface, the ability to personalize and fine-tune product offerings to individual buyer preferences and access to a wide spectrum of data make this almost inevitable. Refinements in Apple’s Siri, a new device for Microsoft’s Cortana, and new features for Amazon’s Alexa seem to indicate the use of virtual /digital assistants is only set to rise.
Drone delivery –The concept of unmanned vehicles or drones to transport packages, deliver food and so on still sounds rather fantastical, but this is closer to reality than we think. Forbes thinks that drone deliveries will play a huge role in the next decade or so. A JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle) report predicts that drone products will start out being used in the store my retailers, then perhaps for boosting the security of store perimeters and warehouses as well as for construction management. Convenience store 7-Eleven has already tested out drone delivery systems by successfully delivering chicken salad, coffee, ‘Slurpees’ and Donuts to a Reno, Nevada family. In the future, the possible applications are only poised to increase, given crowded roads and difficult to navigate traffic.
Robotics retail – Robots as shop assistants and robots functioning autonomously in manufacturing and packing seemed far-fetched a while ago, but today Amazon uses a 45,000 strong robot ‘fleet’ to help fulfill warehouse orders. Robotics in retail opens up some exciting possibilities in terms of warehouse management, in-store customer service and bringing the store to the customer. One instance of practical robotics use in retail is the use of the LoweBot by retailer Lowe in its San Francisco store with a touch screen that customers could use to ask questions and which can perform real-time inventory tracking, identify shopping patterns on location and more.
5G–The level of hyper-connectivity, the need for speed, and the sheer volume of data consumption seems to indicate that 5G is going to be an inevitable part of the tech for the future. For the retail industry, this technology is poised to transform the face of e-commerce completely, by creating new opportunities faster. AR and VR have the potential to accelerate the growth of both online and ‘real world’ retail. As an example – IKEA uses an AR catalogue to help customers envisage how the furniture chosen to fit and enhance their homes. This allows the customers to explore the most appropriate designs and colours before actually buying the furniture. Google and Amazon use smart home technologies that allow consumers to shop as much as they want from the comfort of their homes. It is envisaged that retailers interested in exploring AR and VR technologies would be better equipped to measure the emotional connection and opinions of consumers, thereby allowing them to offer better products and services, and win customer loyalty.
As a completely digitally agile business, Indus Net is a frontrunner in the realm of Retail Technology, with an academy of its own to train personnel in this realm. With a customer-centric and sharp focus on innovative solutions, the ability to create robust and sustainable value for clients increases each day. The company has a culture that breathes retail technology and the constant endeavour is to integrate and innovate with technology. We would be delighted to speak with you on how we can help automate your business processes and would love to hear from you. Please connect with us.