It’s incredibly important for your organization—whatever its size, whatever its niche, whatever its market—to leverage technology in such a way that promotes growth and increases efficiency. Especially in our world where companies of all sizes are focused on digital transformation, it’s never been more important to stay up to date on what’s coming down the tech pipeline and what it could mean for your business—without replacing old methods entirely, of course. The retail industry, in particular, has been transformed by new technologies. Those EMV credit card chip readers at checkouts, for example, have practically become old hat by now—and there are bigger, better, and more disruptive developments on the horizon in this fast-paced industry. So what’s next? Let’s explore four technologies that are changing everything for retailers.
Wearables are hot right now. Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC) recently released an analysis of the wearables market showing consumers are drawn to these devices to improve their health, increase social interaction, and make them more efficient in the workplace. (See Figure 1 below for a breakdown of the popularity of particular devices.)
Figure 1. Source: PWC: The Wearable Life 2.0
But wearables aren’t just for consumers. Retail employees can use technology like digital eyewear to help improve customer service, answering inquires instantly without losing valuable face time with customers. Digital eyewear will also allow customers to view products in 3D with a virtual walk around before making a purchase. More potential exists when the interactivity of wearables is combined with the connectedness of the IoT, paving the way for smarter products designed to be proactive, not reactive, to customer needs.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
The IoT doesn’t just have the potential to be uber-disruptive for a lot of industries—in many instances it already is. And there is nothing quiet about the IoT, either—IDC recently called vendor and enterprise IoT spending “explosive” and projected it to reach $1.7 trillion in 2020.
The wealth of intelligent devices also presents a myriad of opportunities for retailers. These sensor-driven technologies can change how organizations approach inventory and other logistics management considerations, just for starters. The IoT benefits don’t just apply to the supply chain, though—they also have a place in marketing strategy. Strategically placed sensors can help determine the effectiveness of store displays and advertisements. The data generated from these connected devices can even allow managers to get a better handle on staffing needs.
To stay relevant in a marketplace increasingly IoT driven, retailers should get out in front of these developments by finding innovative ways to use these technologies, further adding to their value proposition.
Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its subset, Cognitive Computing, describes self-learning systems that mimic the way the brain works by using things like natural language processing, pattern recognition, and data mining to use reason or make a decision similar to how a human would function given the same data. And thanks to wearables and the IoT, there’s plenty of data out there, and more data being amassed by the minute.
Clothing retailer The North Face, for example, is experimenting with cognitive computing via its new XPS tool, powered by IBM’s Watson technology. The tool uses AI to help users choose the ‘perfect’ outwear based on information they input. Personalization, in fact, is a standard theme across most cognitive computing applications—’smart’ marketing analytics, for example, can help brands tailor digital marketing strategies to particular customer profiles.
Point of Sale News reports that cognitive computing is making strides offline, too, allowing stores to combine data with context to answer difficult questions, such as why some locations perform better than others. And as I mentioned earlier, there’s also augmented reality (AR), another application for cognitive computing that provides ways for retailers to enhance the customer experience. Using AR, brands can take real-world objects and virtually (and instantly) integrate text, graphics, and more.
You can do just about everything with your mobile phone these days: work, socialize, shop online, and—much to the budding interest of retailers—pay in person. Digital payment options (like those offered by Apple, Google, Samsung, and a number of other companies providing “mobile wallet apps) can make the purchase process faster and more convenient for consumers. This benefits retailers, too—happier customers are more likely to convert and do so more often. In addition, all that data generated from digital payments can provide helpful insight into the purchasing patterns of particular shoppers.
I hope I’ve piqued your interest and gotten you thinking about what’s in store for retail. What do you see on the tech horizon for the retail industry? Can you pinpoint any innovative ways organizations can get out in front of them? Do you foresee any challenges as companies work to adopt these new tools? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”