We are close to the end of this year that has challenged “the world system”, the way we interact and do business in every sector, in every daily action.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, in the retail industry, we have seen a growth in digital technologies and Artificial Intelligence (AI). What is certain is that the pandemic and all its consequences as social distancing and all the restrictions, has accelerated this growth.
Retailers are increasingly implementing digital processes in their strategies to adapt to global trends. The crisis also boosted the growth in the e-commerce sector.
However, many consumers still prefer the physical store experience. Thus, marketers of physical stores should rather use a mix of offline and online tools to increase sales revenue again.
There is a soft line between physical and digital since expert customers require in-store experiences that simulate the online shopping experience. As a result, stores are now turning to “phygital” - the digitalization of the in-store experience - to improve their customer’s journey.
Today, the digital environment increasingly requires two skills: agility and quick adaptation.
Here are the top 5 tech trends that will be the core of the retail innovations of 2021.
Internet of Behaviour (IoB) was named as the most influencing trends in 2021 by Gartner.
IoB applies data acquired by tech devices used in our daily life to influence people’s behavior through a series of feedback. The analysis allows retailers to discover new approaches to designing the User Experience (UX), Search Experience Optimization (SXO), final products and services, and how to market them.
The sources from which IoB can collect, combine, and process data are different: from social media, location tracking, public and government entities, commercial customer data. As reported by Gartner, “IoB does have ethical and societal implications depending on the goals and outcomes of individual uses. The same wearables that health insurance companies use to track physical activities to reduce premiums could also be used to monitor grocery purchases; too many unhealthy items could increase premiums. Privacy laws, which vary from region to region, will greatly impact the adoption and scale of the IoB.”
Omnichannel refers to a sales and marketing strategy that uses different channels, both online and offline. It’s a sweet combination of different sales platforms, social media, and physical locations to promote and sell goods or services. These channels are combined to make the customer experience easier and more pleasant. For example, Starbucks created a unique experience for its fans by connecting mobile app orders and payment, in-store pick-up, and even Spotify channel to listen to the same music as in the favorite Starbucks shop.
The key step for marketers is to integrate and synchronize these channels. They are almost useless as a stand-alone application.
One of the challenges marketers face is to analyze current human buying and moving behavior to develop or adapt the omnichannel strategy to their needs. Location insights can help to measure not only people’s movement around the store or competitors’ locations. It also helps to analyze location heartbeat to see how people are flowing in the store. These insights help adapt promotions and advertising to people’s needs and interests, thus increasing their buying interest.
By enhancing user experience and online customer journey with location data based omnichannel marketing, marketers will see the results almost immediately.
The pandemic made marketers invest in non-human assets to ensure the smooth work of their shops. One of the most customer-friendly trends raised across physical stores is the implementation of self-service technologies. More and more shops are installing self-service checkouts and contactless payment devices.
One example of cashier-less is the technology developed by Amazon called the “Just Walk Out” system that allows customers to come to the store using their credit cards. Shoppers simply put items into a shopping cart, while an IoT-based system tracks them in a virtual cart. Once shopping is completed, the total sum of all purchases is deducted automatically. The technologies used are a complex system of sensors, camera systems, machine vision algorithms to control every movement and the products taken from the shelves.
Augmented Reality (AR) allows the visualization of the 3D holograms of any kind of product and overlaps them in real-time into space. It can customize the experience and direct the customer’s choices according to their particular preferences. It plays a key role in supporting the customer throughout the search purchase process, moving their intentions, and convincing them. AR empowers the Customer Experience within stores and points of sale.
Visitors are surrounded by realistic 3D photo objects and animations and interact in the surrounding space thanks to a digital layer of AR that is superimposed on the real environment. The AR can be experienced via a smartphone, tablet, or wearable device.
During the lockdown, AR has become a major success factor for e-commerce. It became possible to close a gap in the lack of the physical shopping experience, offering the consumer the shopping reality at home.
According to a Nielsen global survey from 2019, consumers listed Augmented and Virtual Reality as the leading solution for their daily lives. 51% saying they would be willing to use AR to assess products. Such brands like Ikea, Amazon, and Apple already use AR and VR in their business models.
Many retailers are trying to automate their business. This strategy is focused on achieving collaboration between machines and humans. Automation can help improve in-store operations, reduce the load on store employees, collect customer data, and reduce costs.
The automation of many processes (placing and moving goods from shelves, cleaning, inventory tracking, and analysis, last-mile deliveries) allows staff to focus on other tasks that increase business value.
Besides, robots are suitable for social distancing, which makes them an ideal solution during a pandemic.
Examples are Amazon Scout, autonomous last-mile delivery robots that deliver products directly to a customer’s door.
Aerial drones and shelf auditing robots, powered by AI-powered computer vision, will scan and sense shelves, providing autonomous monitoring for inventory management and pricing of products within the store.
Customer service in-store robots, like LoweBot and Pepper (to provide personalized answers to questions, find the goods, navigate customers within the store..).
Robots, like Millie, to report safety hazards and clean up spills.
Here are some of the trends that are gaining importance in the retail industry. Some of them have developed in response to the challenges that have emerged with the health crisis. Others have existed for longer, and the pandemic has only accelerated their growth.