Forward-thinking retailers are constantly being challenged and enhanced by technology. As online and mobile shopping continues to disrupt the “traditional” retail experience, retailers are relying on new technologies to better delight customers, attract them back into stores, and ultimately succeed in the multichannel environment.
So, the real question is which technologies help retailers attract and engage customers. Consider the following four:
1. Augmented Reality
A survey from WorldPay shows more than half of American consumers (55 percent) expect augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to be as popular as smartphones in the near future, while nearly 70 percent believe they will go mainstream soon. From smart mirrors that can automatically measure a user's dimensions, offer up the correct size, and then “dress” the customer virtually, to apps that can “place” furniture in a shopper's existing living quarters, AR and VR provide seemingly endless possibilities to create immersive in-store experiences.
Sephora’s “Virtual Artist” app is an example of facial recognition technology that empowers consumers to “try on” lipstick, eye shadows and other beauty products for a virtual makeover. Consumers can save and name the various looks to view the combination of products worn. They can also buy their favorite items within the app. Similarly, online color tools have proliferated on hardware store websites, allowing homeowners to virtually test paint colors. The online tools have evolved to help people find the perfect paint palette from an aspirational image.
2. Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence
Brands are always looking for ways to connect with customers in innovative and unexpected ways. Fortunately, the rise of big data and machine learning has ushered in a new era of predictive analytics which is helping retailers understand the attitudes and actions of their customers. Chatbot technology is a logical next step for retailers to provide a more personalized level of customer service online or through a mobile app. By harnessing the power of predictive analytics and AI, chatbots can provide recommendations based on a shopper’s past purchases, help find items within a store, and even place orders.
For example, online grocery company FreshDirect is using chatbot technology to assist users in ordering groceries through a Facebook Messenger chat window. Meanwhile, Staples’ Facebook Messenger bot can answer common customer inquiries related to inventory, order tracking and returns.
3. Mobile Wallets
As consumers’ reliance on smartphones is ubiquitous, more retailers are adding mobile payments to their list of app features, especially as shoppers recognize the convenience of scanning or tapping their phone to make a payment. For the quick-service restaurant industry, more than half of all digital orders are now transacted via mobile app. Starbucks was an early adopter of this technology, and its ordering app has seen unquestionable success, representing about 30 percent of total transactions.
Mobile wallet technology also enables shoppers to check out using the app rather than wait in line for a cashier, which can help enhance the customer experience. In addition, retailers can integrate loyalty program rewards and perks into their mobile wallets.
4. Real-Time Inventory Management
Due to the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), retailers have the ability to better serve their customers with more speed and accuracy. In fact, IoT is expected to have a major impact on the retail industry moving forward, touching both customer-facing and back-office operations.
One way retailers are bringing more convenience to their brick-and-mortar stores is by providing customers with real-time inventory information. This is being achieved through a combination of IoT, mobile apps, RFID tags and other technologies. An IoT-enabled inventory system can also alert retailers when certain items have been abandoned or are away from their allocated place for a pre-determined length of time. Returning items to their proper place, such as milk or cheese back to the refrigerated sections, can help reduce spoilage.
Building a Network to Support Next-Generation Technologies
Delivering a truly customer-first experience requires retailers to embrace new technologies. However, to leverage these benefits, retailers must be able to handle this next generation of technologies, which is all about having the right network foundation — i.e., high-capacity, nationwide connectivity that covers every corporate office, warehouse and store, near or far. This is the foundation of everything, and only then can retailers reimagine their stores and customer experience.
Donna Cobb is the executive director, enterprise marketing for Comcast Business, responsible for the development and implementation of winning marketing strategies and integrated sales and marketing programs.
Related story: The 2018 Retail Technology Report