Co-authored by: Girish Chand Tiwari
Retail is a people-oriented business. End customers are the ones who drive the whole engine of retail. Therefore any change, any development, or trend that impact people, forces retailers to take note and make necessary changes in their business operation model. And it is technology that helps retailers to bridge the gap vis-a-vis customer expectations and what is being offered to them. As trends are people generated many of these are interrelated, however, we have tried to categorize them based on the strength of their impact and uniqueness and present them as such. In this blog we are going to discuss some of these global trends and how these are shaping retail technology of the future.
Customer Experience (CX)
As per a Gartner survey, 89% of company’s surveyed plan to compete is primarily based on customer experience as compared to 36% which was four years ago. This is also supported by Oracle Global Insights paper that found that 97% of business respondents state CX is critical to success. Indeed, CX is foremost on retailer’s priority list when it comes to business. There are various elements to the customer experience trend and these will keep on growing in the foreseeable future. Mentioned below are few of the critical elements of CX.
- In-store technologies: Retailers are making use of a wide array of technologies available to bring customers to the stores. They will strive to enable customers to control their shopping experience using technology. Basic thrust will be on intelligent interactive interfaces that guide and help customers in making their shopping choices. Some stores now use memory interactive mirrors that allow customers to try different outfits and explore colors and patterns.
- Personalized service: In this area, technologies such as data analytics, deep learning, and AI will play an important role in creating highly personalized messages for individual customers. This not only will provide insight into customer’s unmet needs but will be able to proactively define their demands itself.
- Omni-channel: This is no longer a wish list but has become main stream. In future this will remain the basic building block in providing a customer with uniform experience across different channels; be it mobile, tab, desktop, on call, or physical store. From an end customer point of view, each of these different channels is just an extension of the retail brand itself and as such should not differ in the user experience they offer. However, even now there are technology landscapes where legacy application operate along with the newer ones restricting the true omni-channel experience.
- Security: With multi channels in place, data exchange has increased multifold. On top of that, personalization is the key to enhance customer experience; putting customer personal data at risk. All these have increased the risk of data theft enormously. Not only are such data thefts costly, they are also a major blot on the retailer’s reputation and brand. Hence, data security has become a top priority for most retailers. For these reasons, security related technical solutions involving encryption algorithms, security features will continue to remain in highlight.
According to a technology review from MIT, smartphones have shown the highest adaption rate of 40% market saturation in just two and a half years. Majority of internet traffic comes from mobile devices than desktops. Moreover, in markets like India which are now driving the internet growth globally, majority of people’s first time access to internet is through smartphones. In this context, it is essential for retailers to align themselves with this still growing trend. In terms of retail technology that means:
- Maximum content, be it product searches, product catalogues, checkouts, or even product marketing has to be made available on mobile. Both enterprise as well as micro apps would be used to provide such interfaces to end customers. That means more refined and robust versions of mobile application development platforms would continue to evolve which would have an impact on application development services.
- Speed of access has been an essential attribute for mobile applications. With this regard from a web app perspective, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is going to alter the mobile application development significantly.
- Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. As of now major use of these technologies has been on the gaming front. However, from retail’s perspective this digital transformation is instrumental in providing a simulated view of products to customers. With sufficient advancement, customers shall be able to experience the product more closely than even before. This will be especially true for apparel retailers.
As we know technology is going to play a significant role in retail going forward. Coupled with evolution of multiple medium and channels, networks are going to be under heavy strain. A typical network cannot scale up to meet peak seasonal demands in a cost-effective way. In case a retailer tries to build such a network then they would be burdened with something that will lie idle during non-peak seasons. That is why going on Cloud is essential for any digital transformation initiative. This not only helps the retailers with access to data, technology, and software without hosting it onsite, but is also beneficial to customers by allowing them to access their personalized shopping experience from anywhere and through any medium. In the near future, movement towards cloud will continue to grow at a rapid pace.
These are a few selected important trends that we listed out here. However, retail technology area is in a flux with new things coming up every day. But howsoever frantic may be the pace of the technology changes and advancement, these are going to be derived on the basis of prevailing global trends that define the key requirements and wish list of the masses which in turn leads to associated technology changes.