Fierce competition from e-commerce brands and widespread adoption of technology are shaping the future of retail from manufacturer to store and everything in between. Many retailers are riding this wave, and have shifted focus to deliver more memorable, personalized experiences for their customers, the kind an online store can’t possibly replicate.
The importance of the technology piece can’t be understated. Artificial intelligence and Internet of Things technologies have given brands the ability to get to know their customer on a deeper, more personal level. Advanced data analytics provides brands with better insight into the mind of the customer, ranging from behavior to individual style preferences to how they want to shop.
What follows are 5 of the biggest trends being embraced by today’s forward-looking retailers.
Internet of Things
Part of retail’s revolution has been steadily blurring the line between the real world and online. Everything in stores is online now, from kiosks that recognize a customer and make personalized recommendations on sale items, to smart mirrors that let shoppers virtually try on clothing in different colors and styles without leaving the dressing room. Internet of Things also has a major logistics component. Smart shelves can track inventory and send a message warning of a depleted stock. The data hoovered up by these connected IoT sensors offers valuable insight about popular items, store layout and much more.
As much as brick-and-mortar retailers are trying to differentiate themselves from e-commerce rivals, in other ways, brands are trying to take a page or two out of their playbooks. Customers expect a unified experience across a brand’s various channels, both aesthetically and functionally. Omnichannel is the answer to meeting that expectation. A website is no longer an afterthought, it’s a part of the company’s fabric, woven into the in-store experience. Customers want to order by app and pick up their purchases in the store later. They want to order an out of stock item using an app on an in-store tablet and have it delivered to their homes. Linking individual retail stores with the entirety of the brand’s inventory and data has just about made “out of stock” an outdated concept.
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As part of brands’ quest to become more responsive, they’ve enlisted the help of robots for retail applications from manufacturer to shelf. Artificial intelligence can be found in retail today in everything from chatbots who can give product information or take orders online, to automated checkout systems to autonomous manufacturing robots. AI can analyze huge volumes of data and come up with educated assumptions about customers, including how likely they are to make a purchase.
Augmented and virtual reality are changing how a customer interacts with a brand, creating memorable or even surprising experiences that build engagement and awareness. Cosmetics companies have rolled out virtual makeup mirrors that let shoppers try on any color they can think of, or even make product recommendations after scanning their skin to find the most complimentary makeup shades or foundation. Some retailers have created elaborate, story-like experiences using in-store displays which trigger an immersive piece of content when accessed via app. By surrounding shoppers with technological marvels that also improve their shopping experience, it forms a strong bond and positive association.
Today’s customers expect brands to know who they are and what they want without having to say a word, and they want the shopping experience to feel tailor made just for them. Stores can now gather items they know a customer will like based on their order history, and even have them waiting behind the counter when they’re ready to check out. Brands are also trying to cast stores as a gathering place, reviving the social aspect of shopping e-commerce recreate through events or community activities that will resonate with the local area in which the store resides.
Technology and experience are two of the strongest weapons retailers have to compete with e-commerce, and those hoping to stick around a while are leveraging both in new and inventive ways.