eCommerceNews New Zealand - Technology news for digital commerce decision-makers
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Key technology trends driving the retail customer experience
Thu, 21st Jul 2022
FYI, this story is more than a year old

The evolution of the retail sector, from a simple store sales model to an omnichannel marketplace, has been rapid. Today's fragmented sales environment presents new challenges and opportunities for brands, who must now do more to meet heightened customer expectations.

The key differentiator in this new age of retail is technology and, more specifically, how technology has adapted to serve the modern consumer. So, what are some of the key retail technology trends set to impact the
customer experience?

Improving productivity with operational intelligence and remote support

Unfortunately, technology issues in the retail sector are becoming increasingly common and negatively impacting both customers and employees. Approximately 60-100 minutes of productivity is lost per device issue due to mobile downtime.

Likewise, recent studies show that 33% of devices go missing from a store, which presents a costly device management issue. Slow remediation times also lead to IT staff spending at least 40-60 minutes fixing common issues reported by retail associates. Additionally, a point-of-sale (POS) outage costs the average retailer USD$4,700 for every minute of inactivity.

To keep staff working and customers moving, retail organisations should invest in operational intelligence and remote support software to understand what is happening on devices and proactively identify and resolve issues quickly.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) retail spending is expected to reach USD$7.3 billion in 2022. For customers, AI creates a personalised shopping experience, and for retailers, it can support increased loyalty and repeat

What AI methods are we expecting retailers to employ for the duration of 2022? First, leveraging buying history will become a frequently used AI sales tactic. For example, if a customer has a history of buying blue clothing, the AI can serve up blue clothes it thinks the customer will enjoy the moment they enter a store. Going even further, AI can offer similar products based on factors such as seasonality and average purchase price.

Virtual assistants are the next big trend for AI retail; only 31% of consumers want to interact with human sales associates at the checkout. During the other part of the shopping experience (i.e., browsing or trying things on), consumers can ask AI-powered virtual assistants questions via conversational or natural language talk or text like, “is this available in blue?” or “could you direct me to the shirts?”. 

The concept of walk-out shopping, where customers enter a store, grab the items they need to purchase and leave without using a checkout, is another AI trend gaining traction. Over time, AI can predict the products a customer will buy and proactively prepare them for the customer a few moments after they enter.

Smart shopping carts

During most shopping trips, the items to be purchased spend most of their time in the shopping cart. Then, the items are removed from the cart, scanned, bagged and placed back in the cart so the customer can bring them to their vehicle.

Smart shopping carts create a ‘frictionless experience' where interactions between customers and associates are limited. Inside a smart shopping cart, you can find built-in scales (for weighing food items), embedded sensors (for scanning items), attached POS terminals (for quick and easy payment) and even a display screen (to keep a running order total).

With smart shopping carts, customers enjoy faster checkouts and less contact with associates. While smart shopping carts seem relatively new, it is an incredibly fast-growing segment. By 2026, the global smart
shopping cart market is expected to be worth over US$4 billion.

Supply chain visibility and automation

Supply chain visibility is somewhat a study in contrasts. While over 90% of supply chain executives say supply chain visibility is important to success, only 33% have true supply chain visibility. 

The pandemic revealed that whether it is an online order with doorstep delivery or a BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store) purchase, customers want to know where their order is at all times, and retailers must be able to provide this information to them.

Technology can help achieve supply chain visibility in a variety of ways. For example, real-time data capturing is data created in the supply chain. This can include information on when an item moves from the warehouse to the delivery truck, and the data can be collected and shared instantly through an app, barcode scanner or other means. Real-time data capturing and sharing minimises bottlenecks and improves the customer experience.

Supply chain visibility also leads directly to automation. When inventory levels or stock availability falls below certain thresholds, automated actions can take place to address or rectify the issue. For example, a warehouse can receive an automated alert to load the next available truck with products and deliver them to a retail location that needs them.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) is the digital version of ‘try before you buy', letting people envision how the product they are interested in purchasing will look and feel.

AR-embedded mirrors enable customers to try on clothes and outfits without wearing them. Meanwhile, virtual showrooms allow customers to explore several products and even make customisations in real-time, such as turning a grey sofa blue to see how it looks.

One of the main benefits of AR is it reduces the need for returns. Instead of purchasing a product, taking it home and trying it out, AR allows customers the same experience either in-store or at home.