Evolving consumer behavior is what drives retail forward, both in tactics and technology. The future of retail now lies with emerging technologies such as AI, AR, mobile, and immersive, interactive media.
Successful Applications of Technology
Predictions put global spend for cognitive systems alone (i.e., AI) at more than $30 billion by 2019, and this is what will power other advanced technologies in retail. It enables embedded and relevant one-to-one brand experiences that both are inherently personalized and function at scale. The fact that systems like this can also improve the way businesses fight fraud, makes it’s no wonder that the technology AI supports is already seeing success in the marketplace.
Most recognizable for the success of Pokémon Go, AR bridges the virtual world and the real world. In terms of retail, the platform sees the most headway in the fashion and beauty as well as home improvement industries. Sephora, for instance, has leveraged AR to stunning effect via its mobile app and its in-store interactive screen (powered by ModiFace). Both allow customers to virtually test different makeups on themselves in real time. Similarly, Lowe’s app allows users to see furniture fit into their home as 3D objects true to scale. Both allow customers to find the option that best suits their needs and personal style, completely hassle free and before they’ve made a purchase. That means they have more confidence in the purchase they’ve made, which drastically lowers return rates. Many apps, including Sephora’s lipstick and lash tester, also promote social sharing for virtual results, converting happy customers into brand ambassadors.
Conversational commerce is relatively new, mostly because bots have had a hard time properly engaging with humans until now. Now, AI has developed to the point of better than 90% accuracy in machine parsing and understanding typed and spoken requests, allowing chat bots to engage with customers in a meaningful way. Facebook has enabled this to go mainstream utilizing its Messenger app; Sephora comes out as a leader again thanks to Sephora Visual Artist. By submitting a photo, the chatbot can discuss the best colors for an individual and then go on to suggest the best products that Sephora currently offers.
You might see “interactive screen” and think that simply means a touch screen, but the truth is, these screens are so much more. While most AR is limited to mobile devices and headsets, interactive screens bring that experience into your store and make it infinitely more accessible. In fact, Bloomingdale’s Manhattan store took the experience outside by putting the screens in windows, allowing passersby to become potential customers with a tap of the finger. Color swatches led to articles of clothing and outfits, and when a person liked what was on screen, they could turn to their mobile device to check out. An array of fashion retailers have utilized screens to act as mirrors, allowing customers to virtually try on outfits or to see the outfit they’re already trying on in a different color. Coupling this AR with AI provides an extra layer of guidance and customer assistance that easily makes this type of screen useful to other industries.
While this technology has been most accessible to retailers for longer, mobile hasn’t stopped growing and evolving, especially as it branches into wearables. At its most basic, it provides brands with a way to share an end-to-end branded experience through its app. This gives customers a platform to control their account, participate in loyalty programs, and locate or access products and services. It also has the potential to host a chat bot in a completely branded space. Mobile pay continues to gain prominence as a safe and frictionless way to check out, and while this usage is relatively new, even that is evolving. Amazon, for example, is developing a store that tracks where customers are based on their phone, what products they take or put back, and automatically checks them out when they leave.
Evolving Customer Experience
The bottom line is what this technology means for the way customers experience your brand. Branded apps make for a connected, streamlined experience; integrating mobile pay also makes shopping frictionless. Interactive screens take the in-store experience to the next level. AR is what makes both that much more powerful and influential.
Despite the fact that AR shoppers tend to be female (58%), tend to be Millennials (40%), and tend to not be elderly (only 18% were 55 or older), the fact remains that more than a third of all shoppers (34%) are already using AR while they shop. Roughly 77% of shoppers want to use AR while shopping, while another 71% say they’d shop with a retailer more often if AR is available. Most interestingly, 40% say they’re willing to spend more on a product that they can experience through AR, while 68% will spend more time with a retailer when they can shop with AR. That speaks the most to how this technology improves and enhances the customer experience.
Tips for Integration
Understanding why you need to utilize these emerging technologies in your business is only half of the equation. The next part is integrating and implementing these technologies into your business. Always start with detailed research. Developing a complete understanding of how technology can work for your brand and how it can help you stand out as unique above your competitors will make your process and strategy much more effective.
- Don’t try to do everything. — Take things one step at a time. Develop and implement the type of technology that is going to best meet your customers’ needs and desires. It should enhance their experience and their relationship with your brand. Trying to do this in too many areas all at once will undermine your ability to do any one of them effectively.
- Be interactive. — The fastest way to catch consumer attention and keep it is to be fully engaging, drawing them into an interactive experience that’s more than just a gimmick. Whether it’s a mobile app that allows them to test out furniture or a fully immersive experience in-store to test out the latest fashions, giving consumers some level of control ensures they have an enjoyable experience that leaves them confident in their purchase.
- Capitalize on personalization. — This goes beyond the type of personalization you see in marketing. Here, we’re referring to a complete build-to-order experience that allows customers to personalize the final product utilizing preset designs and a collection of assets.
Consumers are taking full advantage of technology, and it’s changing the way they shop and engage with brands. Thus, the future of retail is tied to the ability of businesses to tap into this evolving consumer behavior. This needs to be developed strategically to make the best use of advanced technologies in retail.