By Thomas Knox, Forbes Council Member – Technology Council.
As an online creative retailer – you know how important the right technology is to meeting your business goals and serving your customers in the way they want to interact with your business. It can be a bit overwhelming to say the least. Our customers have become savvier about shopping online and more brick-and-mortar shops have added eCommerce shops in the past couple of years than ever before. These changes to how we shop have driven some opportunities that smart retailers are incorporating to grow their businesses.
Technology has disrupted almost every industry worldwide, and the retail sector is no different. E-commerce is often what retailers think of first when discussing the impact of technology on shopping and retail. However, technologies such as AI, computer vision and IoT have changed every part of the shopping experience from browsing to checkout. These changes have been driven, at least in part, by the rise of e-commerce and the demands of an increasingly discerning consumerbase.
How Has the Typical Shopper Evolved In The Past Decade?
Before discussing the technologies that have driven innovation in retail, it’s important to understand how typical shoppers have evolved over the past decade.The rise of e-commerce has highlighted the extent to which customers value convenience and choice. Despite this, physical retail has thrived and continues to defy predictions of “the death of brick-and-mortar stores,” spurred by a rising share of e-commerce sales in the retail space. This has encouraged physical retailers to adopt new technology ata much faster pace than they did previously.
Customers, particularly millennials and Generation Z, have indicated that customer experience matters above other things in retail. While the extent to which this is true changes from grocery stores to apparel retailers, retail brands that provide positive customer experiences have been shown to make three times as much as companies that fail to do the same. In a bid to provide these experiences, retailers have adopted a variety of innovative solutions. Let’s take a look at three such technologies that are driving major changes in the retail industry.
1. E-Commerce and Physical Retail Are Being Pushed Closer To Each Other
- Industry observers consistently compare e-commerce and physical retail as competing platforms for customers to shop on. However, these platforms are more complementary than they seem at first glance. Customers often begin their journey on one platform and continue on another. For high-value items such as laptops and specialized equipment, customers are likely to research the specifics of potential purchases and review customer feedback online before heading into a store to assess these items physically.
- Even simple and routine shopping experiences can begin online where regular purchases are added to a cart for curbside or in-store pickup at a later time. This trend has encouraged retailers to ensure consistency across shopping platforms, particularly online. A 2020 survey revealed that 60% of customers expect to receive consistent service, regardless of the channel they choose to interact with a brand through.
2. Predicting Demand Has Become More Accurate and Accessible Than Ever Before
- The Covid-19 pandemic has been exceedingly challenging for retailers. Managing fluctuating demand levels and ensuring product availability can be difficult when the factors affecting demand change regularly. The ability to manage this demand can be a key factor in ensuring long-term customer retention.
- Customers today find a staggering number of shopping options online and in real life.Online shopping platforms have used AI to manage logistics and stock levels for years. Learning from the experience of their e-commerce counterparts, more physical retailers have deployed AI algorithms to complement their stocking routines. With AI, retailers are better able to identify purchase trends and analyze them to predict changes in customer demand.
- In the past, only the most resource-rich retailers had the capability to use AI to monitor purchase trends and predict customer demand accurately. The need for extensive investment, technical expertise and specialized hardware were major barriers to entry for small retailers. However, the technology used to predict demand has evolved with the help of computer vision software.
- Today, retailers can run large grocery stores and small convenience stores autonomously simply by using cameras and a well-trained algorithm. The improvements in computer vision technology allow retailers of all sizes to maximize the possibility of a customer walking out of a store satisfied with their purchases and pleased with the overall shopping experience.
3. Personalization Will Continue to Be A Key Differentiator For Retail Brands
- With connected technologies and omnichannel retail blurring the line between online and physical shopping, retailers can personalize their offerings more than ever before. An Infosys study revealed that 59% of shoppers who experienced personalization in retail believe that it influenced their purchasing decisions.
- Retailers had previously personalized customer experiences through mailing lists and loyalty programs. AI, computer vision and omnichannel customer journeys have enabled retailers to adopt a granular perspective of what customers truly want(today and in the future) and prepare what products to offer, where to offer and when to offer.
- Customers can receive personalized promotions and recommendations based on past purchases. In the future, this technology could also be used to provide customers with personalized discounts while they are shopping in-store, using screens or push notifications to share discounts that are more likely to encourage a purchase decision. This can help brands influence purchasing decisions and differentiate themselves from competitors who rely on a standardized approach to conduct customer outreach.
- Personalization is not limited to these approaches and has to be offered in-store as well. The modern shopper expects options such as contactless checkout and self-checkout to be available to them at all times. Customers who shopped during the pandemic experienced the convenience and variety that multiple checkout options can give them and almost three-quarters of customers revealed their intention to continue using contactless checkout in the future. Retailers should deploy technology in a variety of ways to build a retail experience that best suits the needs of their unique customer base.
Each of these innovations has radically changed the way customers interact with retail brands and the way retailers run their businesses. With customers continuing to shop across a variety of channels and platforms, these technologies will only grow in scope and capability.