Most people today have the power to keep abreast of current market trends and emerging technologies, thanks to the Internet. The ubiquity of connected devices, constantly evolving technological landscape, and growing per capita income are some of the factors due to which the expectations of the average consumer have risen greatly. B2C companies are, therefore, constantly on their toes in a bid to satisfy the whims and fancies of consumers.
The retail industry, for instance, has undergone a lot of operational changes over the years for the same reasons. Moreover, big data analytics has been playing a critical role in helping retailers bring about the said changes. The adoption of analytics solutions is, therefore, growing steadily with more retailers working incessantly towards enhancing supply chain operations, improving marketing campaigns, and increasing customer satisfaction and retention to achieve high levels of retail success.
My previous article explores some of the major technological innovations that are currently aiding several analytics operations in the retail industry. Now, let us have a look at some of the technologies that will likely shape the retail industry of the future.
The use of smartphones, tablets, and PCs for making retail transactions became commonplace long ago. However, advances pertinent to wearable devices are likely to further elevate shopping experience in the near future. Apple Pay, for example, is an application that has been making waves in the retail space. Apple Pay is a digital wallet or mobile payment service, which was introduced by Apple in 2014.
Besides iPhone, iPad, and Mac devices, the service works with the Apple Watch as well. The service enables consumers to make simple and secure payments at retail outlets. Double-tapping the side button of the watch brings up the saved debit/credit card. Then the consumer just has to bring the watch close to the merchant terminal, and the payment is done within seconds. Watch a short demo here. Similar applications for wearables will likely be developed, which will not only save the time of consumers and retailers alike but also facilitate data collection for big data analytics operations.
Several retailers today are able to offer immersive shopping experiences owing to virtual reality (VR) tech. For instance, Adidas has come up with BodyKinectizer, based on Microsoft’s Kinect technology, to provide a digital retail experience to customers. BodyKinectizer is a low-cost body scanner that takes precise 3D scans of customers. The system then makes size recommendations based on customers’ physical measurements. The system also includes an interactive touchscreen interface that allows them to dress their virtual self. This helps customers visualize themselves in outfits of their choosing, thereby providing an enriched retail experience. The adoption of VR in the retail industry will grow as the technology becomes more scalable and accessible.
Drones and Satellites
James Crawford, CEO of Orbital Insight (a geospatial big data company), revealed that deep-learning AI neural networks can be used to determine the number of vehicles arriving at a retail store. Weekly patterns can be discerned, which help retailers understand shopper behavior. The insights also help in planning and measuring sales campaigns in real time. In addition, data related to a store’s to-and-fro traffic aids in measuring sales performance with respect to different weather conditions.
As per Deloitte’s recent report on the retail trends in 2016, automation with the help of robots is becoming increasingly common in stores. For instance, Walmart is partnering with Five Elements Robotics to develop a robotic shopping cart called Dash, which would help customers find items whilst relieving them from the strain that comes from pushing a heavy cart. The cart also helps facilitate payments.
Another example is the retail chain Lowe’s, which recently introduced LoweBot in partnership with Fellow Robots (a technology firm). LoweBot is a five-foot autonomous service robot that has features such as autonomous navigation, inventory auditing, speech recognition, and obstacle avoidance. LoweBot mainly serves two purposes: inventory management and customer assistance. The robot is capable of scanning inventory and saving relevant data. This data helps the retailer make quicker business decisions. The robot uses 3D scanning to detect the human frame and communicates with customers through speech recognition. It aids customers in navigating within the store and finding the required items.
Clearly, the retail industry is evolving very rapidly, and consumer behaviour is varying with advances in technology. Retailers that are early adopters of emerging technologies will stay in the news and, therefore, relevant. Also, they are more likely to attract new customers and retain their existing customer base. Contrarily, businesses that are resistant to change will soon be lost in oblivion. As more retailers adopt the newest technologies, the effective use of big data analytics solutions will be the key to gaining a competitive edge.
Walter Loeb wrote in an article that the post-millennial demographic, popularly referred to as Generation Z, will greatly influence how the retail landscape will evolve in the future. Fifty-eight percent of this demographic said they enjoy shopping in physical stores. Generation Z also seems to be the enthusiastic lot when it comes to trying out new products and sharing information on social media. This consumer behavior is critical as retailers, both physical and online, are constantly trying to find new ways to offer differentiated services. Further, retailers realize the importance of online reviews and how they could make or break their business reputation.
On that note, have a look at what influencers and professionals in the retail industry had to say at the world’s leading annual retail event – Retail’s BIG Show (NRF Annual Convention & EXPO) – held on January 2016 at New York City:
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