The inaugural Shoptalk Europe brought hundreds of speakers and thousands of delegates to Copenhagen to debate the future of retail.
The huge diversity of ideas and discussions reflected the fundamental changes and challenges facing the industry, and how the retail experience is evolving to be smarter, easier and better.
Smarter: Artificial Intelligence and the Smart Commerce Revolution
Speaking at Shoptalk Europe, eBay declared that artificial intelligence (AI) is "transforming every aspect" of retail. Certainly AI has the potential to enable a truly personalized shopping experience. For example, specific promotions can be tailored and pushed to individual consumers based on a range of criteria, from purchasing history to the amount of time spent in a certain area of the store.
Algorithms can also support various other retail functions. Indeed, Gartner predicts that 85 percent of customer interactions will soon be managed and supported using AI. For example, chatbots can be used to provide immediate customer support, whether it be answering product queries or providing style tips. Automated notifications can also be sent to a consumer’s device informing them if a certain item is in stock.
But of course, AI is only as smart as the data it uses. Retailers must work to ensure and enhance the quality, integrity and completeness of their customer data.
Easier: Delivering a Frictionless Buying Experience
There's a growing consensus that in-store shopping needs to be easier and, in the words of one Amazon.com executive, "give people back the time to live their lives."
For retailers managing high footfall and volumes of sales, such as city convenience stores and gas stations, a key priority is to deliver a frictionless in-store experience to reduce the time consumers spend waiting in line.
For many, checkout-free shopping is synonymous with the Amazon Go concept. Scan-and-go technology, however, is coming to the fore as a simple way for retailers to offer frictionless in-store experiences at scale. The cumbersome handheld scanners that characterized early deployments have been replaced with a simple app on consumers’ smartphones, enabling shoppers to scan items as they go before easily paying in-app. This removes the need to wait in line altogether, without highly complex technologies in-store.
Better: Pushing the Boundaries
The in-store retail model has remained relatively stable for decades. However, times have changed, and many retailers now find themselves in a technological arms race as they look to provide better services to stay ahead of the competition.
Consider package delivery times. Until recently, next-day delivery was industry leading. Then, same-day delivery emerged, quickly followed by same-hour delivery. Now, industry players are investing heavily across drones, autonomous vehicles and robots to try and make real-time delivery a reality.
This rapid pace of development is reflected across all aspects of the retail experience. But as development cycles shorten and consumer expectations grow, there are big decisions for retailers to make. For example, do they try and develop technologies in-house, outsource to specialist providers, or pursue a hybrid approach?
Enabling the Future of Retail
In the search for smarter, easier and better, a retailer’s ability to quickly integrate emerging technologies into their existing infrastructure will be crucial. As a first step, many retailers are now looking to digitize payment cards, loyalty schemes and coupons. The ability to offer these services direct to consumers via their own devices looks set to enable the majority of next-generation retail services, so this should be an important near-term consideration. As ever though, there's no one-size-fits-all approach, so the next few years are going to be fascinating.
Julian Wallis is the sales director in the payments group at Rambus, a provider of innovative hardware and software technologies.
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