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What Technology Will Most Impact the Retail Industry? 44 Experts Share Their Insights

  • 17 June 2019
  • Sam Mire

Amidst all the hysterical hullaballoo about a robotic takeover of the retail industry, you'll find the truth. Digitization is altering the retail landscape, to be sure, but is that the whole story? The shifting tides of retail involve technology, but to what extent will artificial intelligence, blockchain, and actual robots affect the way we shop?

Industry insiders shed light on the line between hype and educated speculation as it applies to technology and retail. Here's what they have to say:

1. Nikki Baird, Vice President of Retail Innovation at Aptos Retail

Nikki Baird“Wow. This is a tough one. Microservices architecture will have the most impact. Retailers have been such laggards in adopting technology, and despite their best intentions, they continue to feel that it’s vitally important to customize every process and experience they offer, whether or employee or customer. Microservices allow retailers to build experiences more like building a Lego house, with standardized blocks and standardized API connections, giving them much more flexibility in designing the experiences they want, and delivering them without having to write custom code or customize applications so much that they are no longer able to be upgraded or maintained.”


2. Antonia Hock, Global Head of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center

Antonia Hock“The new recommendation AI engines are incredible when deployed correctly with the right CRM data as a backbone. When a brand can serve up accurate recommendations that understand the nuances of my preferences, that's a wow! The ability to use my behavior to create specific recommendations that inform my next purchase will get me to buy more — that's the holy grail behavior for any brand. For example, if I love a studded Balenciaga bag, and you serve up a Virgil Abloh wallet, you get my style. If you keep showing me more Balenciaga, you lose. AI preference engines must drive me to think beyond the obvious.”


3. Bryan Eisenberg, Co-Founder of Buyer Legends

Bryan Eisenberg“Google Analytics helped improve online experience and marketing spend by giving customers insights to what was happening in their online shops, I expect a similar affordable solution must appear if we want large scale improvement in brick and mortar retail. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

 


4. Bryan Roberts, Global Insight Director at TCC Global

Bryan Roberts“Clever retailers are realizing that the smartphone is the glue that can create a focal point of convergence for communication, advertising, research, transactions, loyalty, and payments. The smartphone can enable greater relevance and contextualization for shopper and promotional marketing based on shopper preferences and purchase history. Personalization has already become something of cliché and, ironically, is being achieved despite, not because of, technology.”


5. Cate Trotter, Founder and Head of Trends at Insider Trends

Cate Trotter“Of all of the buzzword technologies being talked about, AI is probably the furthest along in terms of the impact it can have on retail. It’s being applied in all sorts of different ways from improving operations (like predicting stock levels) to providing personalized recommendations to identifying product trends and much more. The retail industry has been data rich for a long time, but not data smart. AI is helping to change that by empowering brands to really understand what is going on in their business and respond better.”


6. Brian Kilcourse, Managing Partner at RSR Research LLC

Brian Kilcourse“AI/ML is having a growing impact on Retail, as retailers use if to create new barriers to compete. Current “hot” use cases address three key challenges: (1) ingesting new (frequently non-transactional, eg. social) data to vastly improve demand forecasting and planning; (2) localization of assortments; (3) more personalized marketing. Other use cases will quickly emerge as retailers learn the value of “math-based” rather than “rules-based analytics.”


7. Kasey Lobaugh, Chief Retail Innovation Officer at Deloitte

Kasey Lobaugh“While many people may want to focus on customer-facing technologies we view Robotics and cognitive automation (R&CA) as one suite of technologies that will have a significant impact on the retail sector. As labor costs rise and technology costs decrease, retailers will likely look to R&CA to reduce cost and streamline operations to relieve margin pressure. AI-powered automation has the potential to have a significant impact on supply chain planning, demand forecasting, customer intelligence, supply chain operations, and more. We are beginning to see initial prototypes become reality, in both consumer-facing and back-office applications. AI-powered automation will help retailers meet consumers’ and shareholders expectations, alike.”


9. Miya Knights, Head of Industry Insight at Eagle Eye Solutions Limited

Miya Knights” I would say that AI development has the greatest potential to streamline, orchestrate and optimize retail operations and offers. Retailers need a real-time view of what they sell, to who and how. Without this, they lack the agility to offer the choice, speed, and convenience at the best price to the customers they target.”

 


10. John Rampton, Founder of Due

John Rampton“Artificial intelligence is having the greatest impact on retail because it is helping to address the personalization expectation. Being able to sift through available data quickly, AI-enabled tools can make better recommendations about products and tailor promotions more effectively.  It is also helping remove the friction from the purchase aspect of the retail experience by speeding the recognition and verification of each customer to make transactions faster while not compromising on security.”


11. Steve Dennis, President and Founder of SageBerry Consulting

Steve Dennis“No one technology is reshaping retail. The best retailers will be human-centered–and that includes customers, associates, community and the planet) and use a mix of technologies to enable remarkable results.”


12. Doug Stephens, Founder of Retail Prophet

Doug Stephens“I'd have to say artificial intelligence.  I truly believe that we're on the cusp of a complete revolution in terms of how AI informs and impacts both the front and back end of the retail experience.  Simply put, AI will provide supply chain analytic capabilities and speed that until now have been impossible for retailers to achieve.  From the consumer's point of view, I believe that within a decade, we'll all subscribe to a personalized form of AI that essentially becomes our consumer Oracle.  It will come to understand each of us and our needs better than our own family members.  Just as we use GPS to guide our bodies from one place to another, we'll rely on our AI to guide our consumer lives.”


13. Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner at Retail Systems Research (RSR)

Paula Rosenblum“Clearly AI and machine learning (ML) are having the biggest impact on the industry. Existing applications can be infused with ML or AI and become part of the data inputs to everything from employee recruiting to merchandise planning and supply chain analytics.  This will be of tremendous use to the industry as AI and ML provide ways to incorporate data from non-transactional demand signals into legacy applications.”


14. Shep Hyken, Author of The Convenience Revolution 

Shep Hyken“Personalization is a strategy, but what helps a company deliver the personalized experience is technology. An AI fueled system that tracks the customers buying patterns and puts them into a group (their persona) will help make the customer feel like the retailer knows them. The technology that collects the data and then tells the retailer to use it will have massive impact. And, the personalization will become so good that the customer will feel the experience is individualized to them. This is a great opportunity for retailers to emotionally connect and create customer loyalty.”


15. Bob Phibbs, CEO at The Retail Doctor, a New York Consultancy

Bob Phibbs“Virtual training is being used to scale in new ways with smart retailers to deliver on the promise of more human contact in their stores, not less.”

 

 

 


16. Craig Lodzinski, Chief Technologist for Data and Emerging Technologies at Softcat

Craig Lodzinski“5G networks are on the horizon and will increase the blending of the physical and digital retail environments. By removing bandwidth and latency restrictions from the physical retail environment, brands will be able to create a seamless brand identity across all touchpoints, rather than splitting the digital and bricks and mortar presence. For retailers who have killer content ready to roll but can't deliver it because latency and bandwidth are pushing up their bounce rate, then 5G can change the game.”


17. Kevin Sterneckert, Chief Marketing Officer at Symphony RetailAI

Kevin Sterneckert“Some technology providers boast artificial intelligence expertise, but what most possess are just use cases where AI is applied. AI’s biggest impact will be where it actually identifies business opportunities and recommends actions to decision makers and enabling seamless execution.

Consumers are tired of basic assortment offerings, but unleashing the power of AI on each store location and channel will create impact across the retail value chain. For example, instead of using rule-based systems to make assortment decisions, AI can identify changes that will improve consumer appeal, eliminate waste, and improve the entire balance sheet.”


18. Richard Heyes, Managing Director of Tecmark

Richard Heyes I think Audiovisual (AV) technology and integration with mobile applications will continue to be adopted across retail to improve the experience, particularly in convenience and retailing. A good example is the touch screens in McDonald's they allow you to get your order in at your own pace, allow you to have more time to choose your options and not to mention, they have cut down their own queuing times which is good for customer experience also.

Using apps in-store could be aided further with the 5G rollout and better internet connectivity. For example, the ability to be able to order from smartphones or check stock availability while you're in the store would benefit customers and improve their experience while shopping in that store. Smartphones already play a big part in early stage product research, store locating and price comparison, and I believe that smartphone use in retail will increase further. With more mobile payments set to increase for lower value items and shoppers searching for stores that sell/stock products while they are out and about.”


19. Dennis Wakabayashi, VP of Digital and Integrated Marketing at The Integer Group

Dennis WakabayashiRetail and localized intelligence will be the catalyst of all shopping and transactional transformation. Companies like Digital Mortar will dematerialize the physical barriers of shopping stores and transform every location in the world, into an intelligent consumer dashboard held up by quantitative data from customer dwell time, engagement and intent to purchase. Perhaps most importantly, for the first time, CMOs at brands will know exactly how customers interact with sales representatives and what they do in-store – even “virtual stores.”

Imagine it. Cash registers cut the cord, and suddenly salespeople become unleashed as a treasure trove of customer experience enthusiasts. They'll become your new best friends whipping up a conversation about your favorite product or interest without much fear of spamming you later. These same people may even offer interesting advice or share a personal story and smile when you leave the store, waving goodbye saying, ‘See you next time.'”


20. Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, Founder and Publisher of Retail Minded

Nicole Leinbach Reyhle“As we look ahead to 2020 and beyond, retailers must recognize the value in understanding their customers often before these same customers even understand themselves. Keeping this in mind, I believe artificial intelligence will be an essential part of various technologies and strategies alike to help the savviest of retailers capture more consumer dollars. From chatbot intelligence to in-store engagement to purchasing via mobile to alerting customers of inventory, promotions and more, artificial intelligence will continue to evolve and re-shape retail.”


21. Keith Anderson, SVP, Strategy and Insight at Profitero

Keith AndersonAdvancements in technologies like computer vision, machine learning, and robotics will have as significant an impact on retail supply chains over the next decade as the smartphone, search, and social media had on the “demand chain” over the last decade.

With these technologies' sophistication increasing and their costs decreasing, traditionally challenging tasks like carefully picking produce and staging a online grocery order for pickup are becoming more feasible.

As a result, almost every aspect of how products flow from producer to consumer will be transformed. Warehouses will become nearly autonomous, while robots will start performing some routine tasks in stores, like auditing stock levels or cleaning floors.”


22. Stephen Rector, Founder and President of Bakertown Consulting

Stephen Rector“Speed of logistics and tech improvements in the supply chain will have the the biggest impact on retail. As Amazon and Walmart are moving to same-day shipping, the behind the scenes technology is critical to the success of this initiative. Companies that are not evolving their supply chain willcontinue to lose market share.”


23. Dr. Lucas Lu, CEO of 5Miles

Lucas Lu“Already experiencing significant adoption of (or at least investment in) blockchain technology: supply chain and financial services. On top of an ever-growing need for stronger information security, mobile payments are becoming more mainstream in countries both developed and emerging.

Moreover, “smart contracts” promise to bring increased transparency, better product authentication (while limiting fraud—i.e. counterfeit goods), and less need for middlemen. The result: cost-savings for multiple parties—retailers, suppliers, and customers.”


24. Trey Courtney, Global SVP & Chief Product Officer at Mood Media

Trey Courtney“Advances in IOT and AI are going to be real game changers for digital screens, allowing retail brands to deliver more personalized and dynamic customer experiences in stores. It is now possible for brands to use sensors such as cameras to capture consumer data and allow them to automatically adjust content shown and learn over time what content is most appropriate depending on the factors tracked. This ensures that the visual content shown is as relevant and engaging as possible for each shopper, resulting in greater traffic conversion, basket size and overall in-store experience.”


25. Nate Masterson, CMO at Maple Holistics

Nate Masterson“Nowadays, instant gratification isn’t an occasional whim, but very much a reality. This means that when consumers make a purchase, there is nothing more disappointing than the fact that it didn’t meet their immediate expectations. With this in mind, AR is likely to have a massive impact on the retail industry. The ability for consumers to virtually try on clothes, or arrange a piece of furniture in their home, before purchasing the product has the potential to greatly increases customer satisfaction.”


26. Kosta Popov, Founder and CEO of Cappasity 

Kosta Popov“A new entry into the world of e-commerce, 3D product imaging allows consumers to interact with products in a whole new way, with dynamic three-dimensional format (3D View) taking the place of traditional 2D static representation. Some merchants see demo videos that show products in action as a way to enhance the online shopping experience, yet, according to recent research, 95 percent of respondents prefer an interactive 3D representation to video playback.”


27. Carlos Castelán, Managing Director of The Navio Group

Carlos Castelan“In our digitally connected world, ads, social media, and continuous information bombard consumers every day. Whether through email spam or the five-second trailer in front of a music video, consumers have information thrown at them regularly and, in response, we’ve seen brands increasingly move towards simplicity. By cutting out the clutter, you lessen the cognitive load required by the customer to make a decision and this approach is catching on. For example, take Nordstrom's Men Store. Despite a large footprint in Manhattan, NYC, they have a limited but highly curated number of items to provide style without an overwhelming amount of options. A brand like PillPack, recently acquired by Amazon, takes the mental strain out of dosing multiple medications daily. In both instances, these companies are making their products and experience simpler to be more attractive to the customer.”


28. Jacquie Young-Sterling, Director of Customer Experience at CompliantIA

Jacquie Young-Sterling“Chatbots. In an estimate by Juniper research, chatbots are expected to drive $112 Billion in retail sales per year by 2023 while cutting costs by $439 Billion! As chatbot evolve to become more conversational and less robotic retailers can utilize chatbots for assisting customers with checking out or with opening a ticket for a complaint about a defective item. They can also gather the data in chats and feed it into a machine learning platforms to analyze it for commonality use that data to fix problem areas and create better experiences for their customers.”


29. Marc Gingras, CEO of Foko Retail 

Mark Gingras“Retailers are always looking to offer customers more seamless and
personalized shopping experiences. With that in mind, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology will have one of the biggest impacts on the retail industry in the future. We’re already seeing early signs of it taking over the retail space with Amazon Go, which allows customers to use their smartphones to whisk through the store and pick up items without hitting the checkout line. But RFID will do more than speed up checkouts through cashless payments, and help retailers monitor stock levels, accelerate processing at warehouses, prevent theft (by tracking products), and offer interactive in-store advertising (in the form of smart screens that share information about products, or by sending deals and savings straight to customers’ smartphones).”


30. Neil Trevett, President of The Khronos Group 

Neil Trevett“3D commerce promises to unlock new opportunities for the future of retail by changing the very experience of online shopping. 3D will be a new shopping medium that manufacturers, retailers, and advertisers can use to display virtual products, enabling shoppers to view and interact with products in virtual showrooms. These 3D immersive experiences will help shoppers better understand a product online prior to purchasing. Additionally, 3D commerce will unlock benefits for retailers; retailers will be able to leverage 3D as an extension of their brand experiences to further engage shoppers, build brand loyalty, and drive revenue.”


31. Alen Paul Silverstein, CEO of Imagination Park Technologies

Alen Silverstein“Augmented Reality will have a major impact on the retail industry in 2019 and grow exponentially into the future. Every consumer walks around with their phones and use them to price compare while shopping, social media sharing, and ultimately make the purchase decision. Retailers need to get ahead of the curve today and start designing AR Campaigns targeting shoppers and providing tools such as try-on, couponing, sweepstakes, scavenger hunts and other gamification.”


32. Robyn M. Bolton, Founder of MileZero

Robyn Bolton“Humans are going to have a greater impact on the retail industry than technology. Technology is so embedded in our daily lives that new uses of it are no longer viewed as novel surprises but rather as inevitable evolutions. Humans, however, are becoming harder and harder to find in stores and knowledgable helpful humans are rarer than unicorns. As a result, retailers like Nordstrom, that continue to prioritize human service and connection will have a distinct point of differentiation and advantage versus their all-tech, all-the-time peers.”


33. Aaron Glazer, Co-Founder and CEO of Taplytics

“AR is quickly evolving from a fun fad to an impactful retail strategy, and it will make serious inroads among larger retailers in the next year and start to trickle down to smaller brands. Consumers are already embracing AR in retail, with 75% expecting retailers to offer an AR experience, and 100 million projected to shop using AR in 2020.

This fast-paced adoption isn’t far fetched when you consider brands such as Sephora, Lacoste, and Walmart are already using AR apps to lure shoppers into their stores. With their smartphones, shoppers can virtually try on 3D clothing, envision products in their homes and scan prices. AR also has the added benefit of solidifying the retailer’s relationship with buyers through mobile, which is one of the most impactful engagement channels.”


34. Ville Levaniemi, co-founder of HappyOrNot 

Ville Levaniemi“With hyper-personalization becoming increasingly standardized in the retail industry, what becomes essential for companies competing in this sector are the big-data processing tools which allow them to better understand their customers. Those who prioritize data can significantly improve their own service offering and eventually, enhance their customers’ experience.

On the flip side, however, we live in an age where data gathering is starting to become a contentious issue – following the Facebook data scandal and the introduction of GDPR – so the need to find ethical ways of collecting data without jeopardizing customers’ privacy is greater than ever. The best way to deal with this problem is through technologies that can collect customer feedback anonymously and perhaps more importantly, with consent, in order to avoid compromising customers' trust.

Numerous companies are leveraging quantitative data solutions from customer feedback management systems to collect vast amounts of real-time data on an unprecedented scale, so that they can accurately quantify consumer happiness and subsequently tweak specific aspects of their service based on what customers actually want.”


35. Rob Maille, Head of Strategy and Customer Experience, CommerceCX

Rob Maille“AI and CRM will drive customer experience, connecting the shopping, buying and service experience throughout the commerce ecosystem. Brands are only scratching the surface of what these technologies can do to make front of house operations more seamless and friction-free for the consumer, while better automating the back-office operations to support employees in up-leveling their work. Many retail jobs were displaced over the years due to recessions, globalization and lack of the right investment. Enhancing the buying, shopping and service experience through AI will increase overall sales and cash flow and help reinstate lost jobs to truly serve customers overall.”


36. Paul Duffy, President of NexTech AR Solutions

Paul Duffy“5G and cloud-computing technology will be a huge game changer for retail. Currently, you aren’t able to render a full, volumetric, realistic hologram into a space using just the computing power on a mobile device or AR headset. The unlimited computing available in the cloud allows for these types of experiences to be created, packaged and transmitted via distribution channels to mobile devices. With the addition of 5G, more high-quality content and large-scale data, rendered quickly and easily in the cloud, can be sent to users’ devices faster than ever to allow for truly groundbreaking AR and VR experiences. These technologies can support simple tasks such as previewing products faster than ever in AR while shopping on mobile or large-scale retail activations where many customers will be engaging with branded content simultaneously.”


37. Jimmy Duvall, Chief Product Officer at BigCommerce

Jimmy Duvall“There's a lot of flashy stuff like virtual fitting rooms and drone delivery, but the technology that will have the biggest impact is less about a single technological innovation but the ability to connect multiple technologies together in a headless way. By enabling retailers to plug various technology features and tools into their websites and mobile apps, retailers will have a simple way to easily connect the front-end shopper experience with back-end commerce. This connection will empower merchants to reach customers exactly where they already are, and gives them the flexibility to test different approaches without being locked into a single platform – something that's critical to unlocking new innovations.”


38. Michael Hardman, CMO at SAIS Group

Michael Hardman“Over the last decade, companies have been investing a lot of their budgets in CRM technology, but CEM (Customer Experience Management) is definitely poised to take over. CEM platforms being released in the market now combine functionalities of numerous existing platforms for maximum cost efficiency and will connect businesses directly with their customers, allowing intelligent and actionable customer data to enable them to maximize sales and customer satisfaction. By combining key platform functionalities into one CEM ecosystem, businesses can better understand their clientele’s requirements and react to them effectively. The behavior analytics provided by such customer interaction platforms allow the brand to stay in touch with their customers’ wants, needs, and requirements while engaging them where they want, how they want.”


39. Erik Huberman, CEO and Founder of Hawke Media

Erik Huberman“The rise of automation and AI will have a huge impact on the retail industry. This technology allows retailers to target, communicate and personalize their strategies much more directly with an individual consumer at scale. Those that utilize this will compete at a much higher level.”

 


40. Mark Van Zuylekom, General Manager, Australia and New Zealand, at Esendex Australia

Mark Van Zuylekom“RCS (Rich Communication Services) as it’s going to fundamentally change the way retailers communicate with consumers. If we look at all the digital channels (website, social media, apps etc) retailers have been using, they all require consumers to initiate the communication by actively doing something (going to their website, liking their social page, downloading the app); but with RCS retailers will be able to conduct all communication and activities (showcase carousel of products, present personalised suggested items, take payment, chat to agent/bot etc) through the native message/SMS app that’s already on the users’ devices. Once the user opted in to the retailers' database, retailers will be able to deliver all these content to the users directly through the messages/SMS app, without the user needing to go anywhere anymore.”


41. Emil Waszkowski,  Head of Consulting at Future Mind

Emil WaszkowskiWith software being one of the fastest growing technology expenditures in the retail industry, mobile shopping has already become a disruptive force within this sector, and its influence is likely to grow bigger. Actually, 63% of consumers are said to rely on mobile phones while shopping in-store to compare prices, search for offers and coupons, check inventory, or buy on-the-go with self-scanning apps. These numbers might be the reason why in-store mobile experience is likely to be one of the top customer engagement priorities among retailers very soon. And rightly so.”


42. Ethan McAfee, CEO of Amify

Ethan McAfee“E-commerce marketplaces, like Amazon, will continue to dominate the retail industry. These marketplaces provide solutions to a bevy of customer needs: they provide consumers with the information they need to know, including product information, reviews, pricing and competitors, in an accessible and secure way. With the ability to go from want to purchase in a matter of minutes and delivery the next day, these online marketplaces give customers a hassle-free and convenient shopping experience.”


43. Rob Keve, Co-founder and CEO of Flow

Rob Keve“Cross-border e-commerce platforms are transforming the way brands grow and reach new global markets. These platforms allow international consumers to purchase products easily and cheaply, as if they are shopping from a domestic website. The global nature of search and proliferation of mobile and social commerce are driving more website traffic from overseas and is creating enormous demand by international consumers for non-domestic brands. Cross-border e-commerce platforms provide the turn-key solution needed to manage all aspects of the international customer experience to convert that traffic into sales.”


44. Mark Smith, President of Kitewheel

Mark Smith“Understanding and orchestrating customer journeys is imperative for forward-leaning companies. Many businesses already have robust CRM tools, great email solutions, and dynamic websites. Companies are looking for a way to seamlessly tie all of those existing systems together without disruption so they can get an end-to-end view of the customer journey, design and map new journeys, test journey paths, and automate interactions based on context. Customer journey orchestration tools that can provide each customer with a personalized experience will be the real tech differentiator for retail going forward.”


45. Benny Saban, CEO of Sonarax

Benny Saban“Nearby connectivity for location based communication and IoT making the
retail space smart and almost encapsulating the eCommerce experience in real life. Very Minority Report. The technologies that we predict will win are sonic communication and/or BLE. BLE though is not able to complete transactions and be part of the total multi-channel payment enabling technology and it does require pairing.”

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About Sam Mire

Sam is a Market Research Analyst at Disruptor Daily. He's a trained journalist with experience in the field of disruptive technology. He’s versed in the impact that blockchain technology is having on industries of today, from healthcare to cannabis. He’s written extensively on the individuals and companies shaping the future of tech, working directly with many of them to advance their vision. Sam is known for writing work that brings value to industry professionals and the generally curious – as well as an occasional smile to the face.

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