Retail has come a long, long way from the mom-and-pop storefront shops of days gone by. Stores today are hyper-connected hubs of commerce, strategically designed to display the products people want and make transactions as seamless and stress-free as possible. And that doesn’t even get into all the backend processes that help the retail gears turning. They’re just as connected and, as technology advances and our systems become smarter, we’ll see changes to retail that will truly impact the way the retail experience works. Here are 9 of the technologies that are building the future of retail.
Data plays a big part in our current retail systems, and as retailers learn how to gather more of it, data’s role will grow. Data will provide consumers with more accessible ways to buy the things they want because it will show retailers how shoppers prefer to buy. Data will also factor into pricing, enabling retailers to automatically and intelligently price their products based on current market trends and demands. Data will help keep stores in stock, give retailers a way to better know customers and offer personalized experiences, and open a window into how marketing efforts are faring. The more data, the better as far as retail is concerned, and as stores are able to gather and study more of it, retail will change substantially as a result.
To say mobile is huge right now is an understatement. There aren’t a lot of consumers walking around without a smartphone, and retailers are learning how to take advantage of that fact. Mobile devices offer consumers a way to do research prior to their purchases. They provide anywhere-access to shopping. They help get customers in the door with promotions, and when you factor in check-ins and loyalty programs, there’s lot of runway in this department. Consumers now have access to instant customer service thanks to smartphones, and you know what that means: happier customers. We’ll only see the mobile sector get larger when it comes to retail.
Internet of Things
The more connected retailers become, the more they’re going to succeed. In no place is that more true than with the Internet of Things, which will serve to help retailers become more efficient in their processes and offer consumers new ways to buy. On the logistics side, you’ll see smarter package tracking and better management of warehouse inventory. In-store personalization will take a big step up thanks to Internet-connected devices that can detect smartphones and offer deals. Smart devices, like “smart mirrors” will offer consumers new shopping experiences. Buying devices like Amazon’s “Dash Buttons” will open the door to instant purchases. And retailers who create an ecosystem around Internet of Things devices will create a way to become part of a consumer’s everyday life.
The future of fast customer service lies with the chatbot, a computer-driven support agent capable of helping customers find help without the need of a human being. We’re on the ground floor as far as chatbot capability goes, but as time goes on, they’ll only get smarter. They’ll soon become knowledgeable enough to understand and offer contextual help, for instance. And they’re around all the time, 24 hours a day, which helps retailers who need to cut costs in the support department. They offer consistent advice, which isn’t something consumers always get from human support agents. And they can answer quickly, diving into a support database and coming back with a response in milliseconds.
The potential for virtual reality in the retail space is huge. We’re seeing VR pick up steam right now in other spaces, but once it becomes the norm to put on a VR headset and go shopping, we’ll wonder how we ever did without it. We’ll be able to tour virtual showrooms and see products in action. We’ll attend virtual fashion shows and see the hottest trends (and we won’t need to know a guy who knows a guy to get in). VR tours will become the next big thing in the world of home buying and other markets. Virtual test drives will let us try out that car we’ve been looking at without leaving home. And when you factor AR into the mix, we’ll be able to bring the best of VR into the real world and use it to benefit retail in a big way.
What’s going to power all of this smart stuff? It’s going to be AI, and retail is going to use it to do some really amazing things. Think about stock and inventory. Smart AI-driven systems will know what to order and stock without a human having to lift a finger. Our shopping experiences will be tailor-made to us thanks to AI that knows what we’ll probably like. Retail chatbots will become smart — so smart, in fact, that we might not even realize we’re talking to one someday. Look for artificial intelligence to make major waves in the next few years.
Who doesn’t love robots? These won’t be R2D2 but they’ll be pretty useful in the retail environment. Some stores are already testing robot customer service agents. They’ll soon do the bulk of the inventory and stocking work in warehouses, enabling retailers to better use space as a result. Robots will power vehicles that move products around the world and get us the stuff we want faster. And humans will work far less in labor-intensive jobs, which means less injuries and less retailer liability.
You’ve likely seen a drone already, but the ones retail will be making use of soon aren’t the remote controlled kind your neighbor has. These will be highly intelligent machines capable of moving products around warehouses to help organize stock. They’ll also start to take over security duties for retail locations and warehouses. Drone deliveries aren’t too far off in the future, getting us our purchases more quickly. And the ability for drones to float high above will have major benefits when studying consumer shopping behavior and taking aerial marketing photos.
The Blockchain is a tough technology to wrap one’s head around, but it’s already in position to make huge waves in the retail sector. You may already be familiar with one use of the Blockchain: Bitcoin. We’ll see Blockchain-powered payments become even bigger in the future. The technology can also power anti-counterfeit measures, as well as new approaches to proof of purchase and warranties. The Blockchain’s tracking ability may one day provide more supply chain transparency to retailers who want it, and for logistics, that same tracking capability will play a big role. You may not have heard of the Blockchain, but you’ll hear that word a lot in the next few years.