Today retailers have an incredible challenge to make themselves stand out from the pack and keep consumers attention. Whether it’s the in-store experience in brick-and-mortar locations, or the overall omni-channel experience, retailers are looking at offering a unique customer experience as a way to differentiate themselves.
This challenge often requires retailers to lean on emerging and exciting technologies to help them design these experiences.
In this post, we will look at some of the key retail technology trends that are taking the Retail industry by storm, and are being leveraged to redefine the Retail customer experience.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) is something that is starting to shake up the traditional retail experience. IoT allows different connected devices and objects to interact with each other through the exchange of data. This allows retailers to create living ecosystems of devices and sensors within their in-store environments to address major inconveniences that may come from in-store shopping.
When discussing IoT and how it can be leveraged by retailers, we can’t ignore the Amazon Go store in Seattle, Washington, which is currently in Beta and open only to Amazon employees. In these stores, Amazon takes full advantage of IoT (and what they call their ‘Just Walk Out Technology’) by letting shoppers take items from the shelves and leave the store without needing to go through a checkout line. The shoppers’ Amazon Go app detects the items that shoppers took from the shelves, and instantly charges their credit card as soon as they walk out of the store.
Another use of IoT that is beginning to gain steam is Voice Shopping, which enables shoppers to buy products from the comfort of their own home with the help of virtual assistants and smart speakers. For example, Wal-Mart recently announced a partnership with Google that would allow their shoppers to order products via voice shopping through Google Home, a voice activated assistant. A similar partnership was also struck between Home Depot and Google, which goes to show that voice shopping is definitely a growing trend to keep an eye on for retailers.
It should be noted, however, that this technology could eventually pose a threat to some retailers. According to Accenture, as IoT becomes more integrated into everyday products, consumers may eventually be able to bypass retailers altogether and, ultimately, order products from the manufacturers directly.
Chatbots are one of the most-talked uses of this technology today. Chatbots are Artificial Intelligent (AI) powered computer programs that retailers can use to interact with their shoppers.
Facebook is one company that allows businesses to create a chatbot through Facebook Messenger. 1-800-Flowers.com, for example, is a commonly-discussed success story where their customers can reach out to the company via Messenger, and a chatbot instantly responds to their questions in order to find the perfect flower arrangement for their current needs.
Retailers can benefit from this technology because it can help them lower staff costs (and related training costs) and offer consistent customer service experience, according to Shopify. On the other hand, one of the main advantages that shoppers see with using chatbots – although many people may not even notice they’re talking to one) – is that it helps them to get quick responses to their questions. Plus, chatbots potentially prevent them from having to wander through a website to find the information they want.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
First, to clarify the difference between the two:
- Virtual Reality is a computer-generated environment that can be viewed and interacted with using a VR-compatible headset.
- Augmented Reality is the overlaying of computer-generated graphics over real-world environments with the use of a mobile device, like a mobile phone or a tablet.
Talk of VR seems to be everywhere these days, and more retailers are using this technology to bridge the gap between real life and virtual worlds to provide unique and immersive shopping experiences that are becoming more and more attainable to most visitors.
Alibaba.com is one company that is redefining the shopping experience for their customers. In late 2016, the Chinese ecommerce company introduced Buy+, a shopping experience that allows their visitors to use VR to walk through virtual versions of stores from around the world, then examine and purchase items that they like. By making their VR headset available at a low price, they are also able to ensure that most of their shoppers can take advantage of this technology.
Many people got introduced to the power and fun you can have with Augmented Reality thanks to the Pokémon Go craze that swept the world last year. However, this technology has already been slowly introduced by retailers in the past few years. Many retailers are using this technology to showcase their products in an alternative way than traditional offline or online methods, especially as a way for their shoppers to more easily and conveniently preview their products.
For example, IKEA understood the struggle of imagining what specific items would look like in their homes by simply looking at a paper or online catalogue. That’s why they introduced the IKEA Place mobile app through which shoppers can superimpose items from their catalogue anywhere in their house, and preview what it would actually look like in the context of their shoppers’ homes.
With the increasing accessibility of VR and AR, retailers are starting to leverage these technologies more often to offer an alternative and exciting shopping experience that will leave their customers wanting more.
Mobile Payment Options
This one has been around for a few years already, but it should still be considered an important emerging technology in the Retail world. Mobile Payment Options offer the ability for shoppers to use their mobile phone to pay for items when they are in-store, as opposed to using traditional payment methods like credit cards, debit cards or even cash.
Business Insider, as part of BI Intelligence’s 2016 Mobile Payments Report, predicts that there will be 150 million in-store mobile payment users by 2020 in the US alone. That’s 56 percent of consumers!
Mobile wallets, Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay aim to transition the traditional in-store payment process to a device that most people have with them always – their mobile phone. Like a dilemma that the Amazon Go store aims to address, Mobile Payment Options aim to make the checkout experience more convenient and fast, thanks to the leveraging of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, or “tap-to-pay”.
They also aim to be more secure than using credit cards, whether by encrypting or scrambling the credit card information before it even reaches the vendor’s payment platform, or other means of confirming the purchaser’s identity. For example, shoppers will be able to utilize Apple Pay using the Face ID feature being introduced to the iPhone X. This provides shoppers the ability to confirm their identity using facial recognition in addition to the Touch ID (fingerprint scan) security feature available with previous versions of the iPhone. Although, there are still some concerns about the security of mobile payment options in general.
While there are some factors that are currently preventing this technology from going mainstream, Mobile Payment Options are definitely a key technology for retailers to keep an eye on.
Retail is an exciting space for technological innovation
These are just some of the exciting technologies that retailers are leveraging more and more to redefine what the ‘Retail’ experience means and make themselves stand out from the crowd.
As retail brands looks into these technologies, it will be important for them to perform Voice of the Customer (VoC) research to evaluate how effective these technologies are in creating a better customer experience which drives sales and improves retention.
One thing is for sure, though - it will be interesting to see where the creativity of retailers will evolve our customer experiences, even just one year from now.
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