Technology is influencing almost every area of our lives — we all know and accept it. The same can be said for businesses and industries. Rather, technology is probably the biggest influence in the business world. And it leads to changes in today’s business that are particularly noticeable. These changes bring more efficiency to businesses and industries, help to reduce costs, and provide better services.
The retail industry is probably the most crucial segment of business and commerce. The retail business is directly involved in satisfying customers with goods and services. They deliver the value that businesses produce. Although brick-and-mortar stores have long defined the retail industry, technology is reshaping this business and will change more in the future. Technology is not just opening new scopes for retail businesses, it’s also impacting consumers’ buying behavior. Thus, adopting technological advances is no longer optional for the retail business.
In 2020, the global retail sales are US$ 23.36 trillion, of which physical retail store sales are US$ 22.13 trillion and e-commerce retail sales are US$ 4.13 trillion (Source: Statista). The story of this huge market involves various technology trends in many ways. Retailers always want to simplify the buying process for their consumers. Technology offers many innovative solutions to retailers to reach customers more easily and effectively. In this article, we have listed some of the top technology trends that will define the future retail business.
Top Technology Trends Transforming the Retail Business:
Augmented & Virtual Reality
Augmented reality (AR) overlays virtual objects in the real-world environment. And, Virtual reality (VR) immerses users in a fully artificial environment. Both these fascinating techs can help retailers greatly enhance the customer experience. Using AR, customers can virtually browse the products right inside any digital device. VR can enable them to try out any product virtually and make real-time interaction with it. For example, before buying furniture you can digitally place them or even virtually project the 3D models in your house to see which one fits you. This augmented or real-time virtual experience can extensively improve customer engagement. And the more retailers can engage customers while shopping, the faster sales will boost. Again retailers can also upgrade the store layouts using extended reality. Using Apple‘s ARKit based tools, companies like IKEA and Amazon have already implanted VR-driven services.
Voice & Visual Search
One who can reach his customers easily and more quickly will stay on top in this competitive business world. In other words, it depends on how easily customers can find your products? And voice assistants and visual search come with the best solution for both — retailers and customers. Voice activation AI like Google Home, Apple’s Siri and Amazon Alexa offers hands-free, faster, and more approachable searching. All you need to do is just command your voice assistant and it will find the product you want. Thus, their demand in retail spaces is growing very quickly.
Visual search, on the other hand, allows users to find whatever they visualize rather than text or voice search. It will take the searching facility to a new level. Using this while shopping, customers can find and buy any product simply by snapping an image of the product. Visual search is becoming a key tool for sales in social networks like Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and other visual platforms. Companies like Aliexpress, Target, Forever 21, Amazon, Google have been facilitating visual search for several years.
Voice and Visual search are becoming so popular that retailers need to optimize their goods and services for these techs to stay competitive.
Products Recommendation systems predict and show what you would like to have or buy. Simply, if you can’t decide which product suits you or don’t know about any item that might be useful for you, a recommendation engine suggests various options and will help you find unknown items. It operates using AI and Machine Learning algorithms and filters data to select user preferences based on different similar contexts. Recommendation Engines are a very popular part of platforms offering movies, music, books, articles, news, and social networks. This tech can be a very powerful tool for retailers to provide more relevant and personalized services. It will not only increase sales but also help to build strong customer relationships. Because understanding preferences is what customers value most. A successful example would be Amazon‘s recommendation engine. Currently, about 30% – 35% of Amazons’ revenue is generated by that tool.
Facial Recognition technology can also help to determine customer preferences. It offers a variety of advantages for retailers. And facial recognition is better useful for physical retail centers. By identifying customers through facial recognition in the store, retailers can deal with them properly based on demographic characteristics. In the case of particular customers, sales operators can respond quickly to their needs. Again, facial recognition can help to identify shoplifters and prevent thefts. Using this tech, retailers can heavily tighten security for their business as well as maintain customer relationships effectively. Though there remain privacy concerns and legal issues, facial recognition tech can be truly valuable to retailers if used in the right way.
Customer Chat Bots
Chatbots are a great way to keep in touch with customers through messaging. These AI-driven customer service tools can deal with numerous queries at a time without human intervention. So, chatbots are becoming integral for retailers to keep pace with the wider digital world. Again these chatbots are replacing human support agents and leading customers to messaging service channels instead of phone calls. Chatbots are designed to respond to any customer query instantly and can provide pre-sales and post-sales customer support. These bots can also provide shopping recommendations to the customers. Chatbots will largely help retailers to reduce customer service costs. Currently, chatbots are one of the most widely used tools among retailers with digital entities to maintain effective communication with customers.
The use of robots has revolutionized all industries. Now retail businesses are becoming a part of this revolution by adopting robotic techs. From store cleaning to moving or carrying goods, from tracking inventory to sorting shelves — robots can be the new store guy. AI-powered robotic store assistants can efficiently execute in-store customer service operations. Robots can also maintain post-sales communication with customers. Semi-humanoid robot Pepper can help customers find products, respond to their queries and even detect their preferences. This robot can also handle counter operations. Lowe’s Home Improvement has its own in-store customer service robot called LoweBot.
Automated or self-checkout will eliminate the long lines of customers in the stores. It will save time for both — retailers and customers, and ensure easy and quick shopping. Using IoT-enabled tools, digital labels on the products, retailers can optimize for the self-checkout system, where shoppers themselves can process their purchases. It allows a variety of payment options like mobile payments, credit cards, and other digital payments. Amazon‘s cashier-less automated grocery store — Amazon Go would be an idle example of automated shopping systems.
Autonomous Order Fulfilment
Order fulfillment automation will significantly speed up the order processing methods. It will greatly reduce fulfillment time and ensure faster and accurate delivery. Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) in the warehouses will not only manage inventory but also handle packing and shipments. Using Barcode, QR code software these robots can accurately pick and pack the products. This will increase warehouse productivity and reduce human errors. An autonomous system will also help to strengthen the supply chain in retail businesses.
Autonomous robotic vehicles and drones are the future of the delivery sector. These self-driving transports can deliver the goods directly to the customer’s door. Autonomous delivery systems could be the idle solution to manage a large number of deliveries simultaneously. This will help the retailers to reduce the costs and hazards of last-mile delivery. Again, autonomous delivery will be the first step to automating logistics. In January 2019, Amazon launched its last-mile delivery robot — Amazon Scout. Companies like DHL, Uber, UPS, and Google are also tightening their grip on driverless delivery techs.
Now is the time to end disputes between physical and online retail businesses. Smart retailers are going to serve their customers through every possible touchpoint. Combining the physical in-store and online channels, they will provide an omnichannel experience of shopping to the customers. Omnichannel retail/commerce is a business model where multiple channels of shopping are integrated to give customers a seamless shopping experience. It enables customers to purchase from a retailer through different channels like — mobile, laptop or desktop apps, web-shops, online marketplaces, and other web platforms, and of course in-store facilities. Each of these channels has its own features. Today, customers are more likely to go through various channels in their shopping journey because of increasing digitalization. As a result, many retailers are heavily investing in both online and offline business channels.
So these are some technology trends that will probably reshape the face of traditional retail business. This list can go further. In particular, many of them are widely backed by other techs like AI & Machine Learning, Big Data Analytics, and Internet of Things (IoT). Again overpowered wireless telecommunications like 5G will bring resistless opportunities for them. Last but not least, digital payments are becoming a major trend for both — online and offline retail businesses. Since technology is evolving this hyper-competitive business, retailers need to adapt to the innovations for future survival.
Anaet Ullah Biswas
Student | Business Administration,
Mawlana Bhashani Science & Technology University.