The future of Retail: perspective on technologies that will have the greatest impact over the next few years

Between now and 2021 investments in advanced technologies by retailers, both retailers or traders as well as resellers working with the wholesale b2b model, will undergo strong growth, particularly in areas such as that of IoT (the Internet of Things), Artificial Intelligence (cognitive systems, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality) and automation.

According to recent surveys by Zebra Technologies (Zebra 2017 Retail Vision Study conducted on more than 1700 retailers and sales managers of various industries ranging from clothing to electronics at an international level), 70% of retailers are planning to invest in IoT already in 2018 with the primary goal of improving customer experience and making supply chains more efficient, optimizing delivery services to customers.

Credits: Zebra 2017 Retail Vision Study

Internet of Things and Retail: lots of opportunities to seize

IoT in Retail is one of the Tech Trends that, starting from 2018, will have very broad growth prospects because, thanks to already mature technologies, they can understand the potential of business and actually see the possible applications.

According to the respondents statements, 65% of retailers intend to explore or invest in IoT to improve delivery services. The adoption of IoT would, in fact, offer more options to the customer, including delivery at work or even to a parked car at a particular place or rest area.

Another important investment area that could offer an interesting boost to businesses, including Italian retailers, is that related to customizing user/customer experience within the store.

The retailer can offer customers an immersive retail experience by analysing their behaviour before they even enter the store, recording important data such as:

the history of their purchasing habits;

● the place and time of their entry into the shop;

● any purchases made on eCommerce;

● delivery mode preferences;

● the payment methods used;

● the number of times the customer contacts the help desk or customer care.

Today, about 36% of traders exploit IoT technologies, including geolocation and Analytics, to know when and where a customer enters a physical store, but forecasts say that this percentage should more than double by 2021.

The reason is that retailers around the world are trying to integrate the in-store experience with the online experience to ensure customer’s the best customer experience, tailored to purchase type, and convert that information to innovative services such as custom delivery or quick check-out with digitized payment systems.

Credits: Zebra 2017 Retail Vision Study

In support of the Zebra Technologies study, the GFK research firm recently released the latest Retail Trend Monitor 2017, in which it is evident that, amongst all the formats/concepts analysed (both physical stores and online), mobile-based retailers and those with physical stores offer greater flexibility in terms of purchase channels and delivery options.

Credits: GfK Retail Trend Monitor 2017

Artificial intelligence for personalized marketing

Sensor and geolocation technologies will help improve service customization, store welcome, or delivery of purchased products. To achieve this, it is necessary to have an analytical capability that today needs to take into account the huge volume of data that is generated by multiple sources such as IoT, web and mobile applications.

While from the Zebra Technologies survey, it emerges that 68% of the retailers surveyed claim they will invest in cognitive computing and machine learning over the coming years, GFK’s analysis underscores how in the technology investments ranking for the coming years from retailers, 84% of respondents expect to focus on data analysis.

Investing in Big Data would enable the development of a tailor-made customer experience that will provide users with the best personalized experience, tailored to their needs and habits.

Credits: GfK Retail Trend Monitor 2017

Technologies to transform the shopping experience

Bringing the consumer to the heart of the offer is thus the starting point for a path of innovation and development: exploiting the potential of the technologies, anticipating impact and opportunities, will allow retailers to offer an immersive and highly personalized shopping experience.

Specifically, the technologies to monitor and experiment with that will transform the retail experience can be grouped into the following three areas:

Credits: GfK Retail Trend Monitor 2017

1) checkout-less store

These are all digital payment methods that simplify purchase transactions (from contactless credit card payments to mobile apps or wearable devices) and which, according to GFK analysis, help to:

● reduce in-store staff costs;

● improve the “look and feel” of shops;

● increase the quality of services offered to customers.

2) artificial intelligence, with particular focus on virtual reality and augmented reality

In general, shopping has to become an entertainment experience to capture the customer and build loyalty through the use of the most innovative technologies that change the perspective and experience of the user when purchasing, whether in a physical store or online.

If in-depth customer knowledge is the first step to be taken through real-time data analysis, creating custom services will come about through the use of artificial intelligence (such as facial recognition, chatbots, and voice assistants) where virtual and increased realities can really make the difference in building a new mixed reality experience.

3) IoT, robots and drones

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, IoT will be one of the areas that will see the greatest investments in the coming years.

For retailers, who can rely on advanced technologies and robotic systems (robots and drones in particular), new interesting prospects are opening up both to improve their efficiency, especially at the supply chain level, and to put that strategy into practice which allows a shift in focus from product to service and, therefore, to design new customized services for the customer.

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