Over the past couple of decades, we have seen huge changes in the way retail works. Sure, we still exchange cash for goods, but practically every other aspect of the process has changed. No longer are we handing over paper cash at a physical store with some clunky register. Now, we often shop online with a single click from the comfort of our homes, and many small businesses can take real-world payments on their mobile phones using tech such as Square.
In 2017, retail is still changing fast from product viewing to payment methods to delivery. These are the top five retail tech trends this year:
Digital overlays to the real world have become all the rage, as is evidenced by the huge Pokemon Go boom. Retail can take advantage of this disruptive technology to let users view products they might like to buy in real-world settings.
One example of this is Shop 4 Rings, an app which lets online retailers help users try on rings in an AR space to see what they would look like if they were wearing them in real life which, of course, boosts sales.
Another example of this is Magic Leap who offers mixed reality that may be used show virtual representations of home decor within the user’s own space.
Other companies have even brought AR into the real-world shop to overlay deals and provide special rewards to users within the geographical vicinity to help lure them in. One major chain who has implemented in-store virtual reality is Lowes with their HoloRoom home improvement experience.
Augmented reality’s big brother, virtual reality, is also finding a home in the retail scene. VR can be used in many of the same ways as augmented reality for retail, but allows for much deeper immersion.
Users can view full showrooms and product offerings as if they were at a physical location without the need to travel outside the home. The online travel site, Expedia, now lets users view hotel rooms in VR before booking.
VR can be used to great benefit in brick-and-mortar locations too.
For example, a North Face store in South Korea led users on a VR-enhanced store adventure that aligned with the season of gear they were looking to buy, e.g. a snowy for winter attire.
Traditional methods gave buyers instant gratification at the point of purchase, although the process to get dressed, drive to the store, walk around and find goods, and check out was much longer. This immediate satisfaction upon purchase is something that has been missing from online buying, with users often having to wait weeks to receive products.
Amazon widely changed this with their Prime Two-Day Shipping, and again with the addition of local warehouses that let users in metropolitan areas pick up their goods on the same day as their purchase.
Taken a step further, disruptive robotics tech alongside big data and artificial intelligence has opened a new method of delivery–drones.
Because drones can be quickly deployed to a buyer’s location, we can expect this technology to become more widespread for quick deliveries locally, especially in major cities.
Below is a video of Amazon’s first drone-enabled delivery:
As cryptocurrency gains major traction among the general public, many retailers are opting to accept crypto such as bitcoin and ether. Red Bull has created a bitcoin-only vending machine, and the company is known for dealing in disruptive tech early, such as was the case with the Red Bull Stratos project with Felix Baumgartner who skydived from space.
Other major companies such as Expedia, Newegg, and Overstock are also adopting cryptocurrency as a valid method of payment, with many more expected to come.
Artificial intelligence has become a major player in most every industry, with retail being among the leaders in AI adoption.
Some of the uses for AI in retail include using photos to search for products and natural language processing (NLP) to help users find the right keyword search terms.
Another highly effective benefit to AI is its use as a chatbot that can assist buyers by answering basic questions and arranging meetings with sales, such as is the case with Conversica. Many of these chatbots come across as human, so customers feel like they are getting custom, quick customer service without companies having to shell out more cash to pay human assistants to cover the same workload.
Artificial intelligence can also offer insight into user preference and, alongside big data, can predict what users might need to buy next, sometimes before the buyers themselves realize their need.
These five trends aren’t the only changes we’re going to see this year. Expect to see major advancements in supply chain technology thanks to the Internet of Things as well as more voice-enabled purchasing through assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa.