How technology is blurring the lines between the digital world and reality
A vast majority of consumers prefer shopping online on their mobiles or tablets from the comfort of their homes, offices or on-the-go rather than going to a physical store and facing long queues, limited stock of items and pushy sales assistants. To combat this, many brick-and-mortar retailers have embraced technology to provide consumers unique experiences which will entertain, inform and encourage interaction rather than just focusing on shopping. In particular, technologies like IoT, sensors, AI, wearable tech, VR and AR have become popular and are leading retailers in a new direction.
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT has been helping decrease labor costs, giving retailers an insight into customer behavior and making waiting in lines a thing of the past. For example, it enables customers on a time crunch to have a checkout-free shopping experience so they can leave the store immediately when they’re done rather than waiting at the till. Items are scanned by sensors, added up and the final price is deducted from their mobile payment app.
Moreover, retailers who set up sensors around the store can use IoT customer data to offer personalised offers to individual customers in real time to encourage maximum conversion rate.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence is not an alien concept anymore. Infact, a survey from Vista Retail Support suggests that more than three quarters of consumers are now familiar with AI-based technology and believe that it can transform their shopping experience.
Whilst AI has been around for decades, it is only recently being used to add true value and enhance shopper experiences. AI can optimise the store layout and merchandising based on the interests of a customer, use facial recognition to identify specific customers, as well as interpret their spending level and loyalty and treat them accordingly — with the sole goal of making experiences more personalised to resonate with customers.
AI can also help in building more efficient organisations and creating true value across the supply chain by understanding the customer in more detail. AI can optimise the supply chain by assisting businesses in various cases, for instance: it can influence what customers want to buy (by understanding the customer’s purchase pattern), quantify how many items to buy and the best way to distribute them & forecast trends. This not only encourages less waste but will also optimise businesses to inevitably sell more.
In July, Westfield launched the first of its kind with a temporary concept, ‘The Trending Store’, powered by Nextatlas, a company that uses AI to analyse trends across social media and in this instance, to stock and sell 100 garments and accessories based on the ability to predict what was trending on social media channels detected from a pool of 400,000 early adopters and innovators from 150 countries. Some of the biggest emerging trends during the week of the pop up included Romantic Heroines, United Activewear and Design Therapy.
As the retail landscape evolves with the increasing number of demanding customers, brands are looking for ways to stand out in a more connected, personalised world. AI can be used incorporated to form this connection between customers and retailers, which in turn persuades customers to keep shopping at their store.
When Tinder introduced the “swipe who you like” model, it gave users the power to choose whoever they liked and disregard who they didn’t- this technique did not go unnoticed by brands like Misguided that have improvised and put this to use. Customers now have the option of simply swiping right or left on the items that they like or dislike respectively, making their shopping experience not just more interactive, but interesting as well! Based on the choices they make, Misguided offers customised offers and product suggestions the next time they shop!
Bricks-and-mortar stores can also incorporate this approach of delivering immersive experiences that create unforgettable experiences for consumers and attract brand loyalty at the same time.
Mobile phones have already become a key feature of the retail world. In the near future, customers will be able to scan items in the store to access information about stock, size and delivery options, and then place the order online.
These mobile technologies will make checkout processes simpler and more convenient by incorporating virtual reality into their in-store experience and by offering personalised encounters such as recommendations, discounts and offers.
Many big-name brands are now focusing not only on the products they sell, but the environment in which shoppers buy them. Nordstrom uses mobile POS devices in its stores to enable staff to check out customers anywhere in its stores, and cut the queues down.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
The technologies that AR and VR yield allow customers to try products before they purchase them in-store. The VR experiences also help customers use in-store technologies to help them gauge the fit of apparel or different makeup looks without having to go to the store. Zara has already tapped into this by launching their own app that enables users to hover their phone over mannequins which are equipped with AR based technology, and that leads the customer to directly purchase the look and shop related items. IKEA also launched an AR app which enables customers to picture how pieces of furniture can fit in their home.
Mario Coletti, UK MD at Nextatlas