TECHNOLOGY

Retail is hurting. So why does the future of retail look so bright?

BY Matt Joe

It’s time to say goodbye to the shopping malls of old and hello to an exciting future of retail innovation.

Successful retailers already know consumer expectations, fueled by our increasingly digital-first lifestyles, are changing rapidly. They are well aware of the fact that shopping malls are not how people actually want to shop.

Customers see fast, easy and personalized online shopping as the norm. It can be hard to meet these expectations in the real world, but it is something that must be done. Consider a recent global study by Avanade and EKN, which found that 56% of retailers surveyed expect their store formats will evolve into fulfillment centers by 2020.

Technology is enabling this transformational shift in retail, breaking down traditional barriers and unlocking new potential. The industry is primed for experimentation and innovation through technology. Here are five examples that could soon reshape the shopping experience and forge enduring, loyal customer relationships in the process.

Making Connections, Everywhere
The Internet of Things (IoT) and radio-frequency identification (RFID) are enabling a world of connected devices and objects with enormous potential in retail. The fusion of these technologies will lead to a smarter, more integrated shopping experience benefitting consumers.

Imagine a store with RFID tags on every item and every shopping bag, all of it connected to a wireless network. Suddenly, shoppers don’t have to seek out a clerk to buy their items. They simply take what they want and the transaction occurs electronically.

This human-centric approach could lead to dramatically different retail form factors dictated by how people want to shop instead of how retailers want them to shop. And the technology of course offers substantially improved inventory quality control because retailers will be better positioned to track analytics on returns, theft, and fraud issues.

Non-Human Intelligence is Getting Smarter
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has already made strides among consumers at home, particularly through virtual assistants like Amazon’s Echo, featuring the Alexa assistant. These gadgets also happen to be incredibly intuitive system agents.

As we expand into an AI-first world, brands will soon be able to better learn and predict consumer behavior, leading to deeper and more relevant shopping experiences both online and offline.

Imagine a store of tomorrow paired with AI and real people. This leads to a more sustainable workforce management approach where retailers know exactly when and where extra store associates are needed to best serve customers during a surge in demand.

This smarter approach helps retailers better know their customer wants and needs, before they even step foot inside a store. This leads to better inventory management and customer engagement focused on the idea of transforming retail locations into fulfillment centers. This new AI-powered awareness is a largely untapped retail opportunity that could open up a more approachable, informed and long-lasting customer relationship.

Chatbots
With chatbots, we’re not literally talking about a robot roaming your store, yammering away. These digital conversation interfaces simply help consumers quickly obtain the information they need, without having to wait for assistance from an in-store employee. Instead, they have intuitive, natural interactions with virtual assistants embedded throughout the store.

The reality of chat bots is that they are already a compelling technology investment in wide use as a self-service tool. Already, retailers have deployed SKU scanners in their shopping aisles to give customers quick info on pricing. Replacing scanners with a chat bot could take the value proposition even further, giving retailers a way to provide more nuanced help about related items and offers through a simple, directed conversation.

Data (Not Time) Is Money
If data is the new currency of the retail economy, analytics is your financial planner. Simply storing data is a fatal mistake.

With analytics, the immense amount of digital exhaust – the structured and unstructured data about shopper behaviors, trends, their likes and dislikes – becomes a virtual goldmine. Retailers just have to know where to dig.

With the right tools, retailers can harness this data to predict and create a more personalized experience that builds customer loyalty for each shopper in their ecosystem. It can also shed a brighter light on the supply chain, adding greater precision to the ordering process while reducing waste and inefficiencies.

Data integration becomes the key ingredient used in every aspect of retail. It’s not just taking a look and last week’s sales report – it’s knowing what customers are going to do, buy or experience next.

Will That Be Cash Or Check (Or Neither?)
Integrated payment systems are an emerging way to deliver quick and easy checkout for in-store customers. From RFID sensing shopping bags, to mobile payment systems, an integrated and convenient experience with purchases, returns and exchanges will be key.

These solutions offer some immediate business benefits. They save money through more automated transactions, they improve financial accuracy by removing humans from the equation, and they improve forecasting by boosting financial visibility.

Beyond these obvious considerations, integrated payment systems can help retailers turn records and transactions into relationships. Brands can use this technology to nurture purchase intent and give customers more freedom to check out on their own terms with a trusted partner.

All of these technologies are a mandate to experiment and reimagine the world of retail. Where does a retailer put their front door? Does the shopper leave the buying experience with products that day? Does it even matter?

The true future of retail is about the valued and trusted brand relationships – augmented by technology – that can be made with consumers.

Matt Joe is global innovation officer of Avanade, a provider of innovative digital and cloud services, business solutions and design-led experiences delivered through the power of people and the Microsoft ecosystem.

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J.Mullaney says:
Nov-08-2017 04:31 pm

That's just what I want to look forward to, going to a retail store so I can interact with a chat bot. Let's do away with humans. No need to interact with people I guess. Which I guess raises the question as to why I would go to a store to shop. Oh, I almost forgot, I'll go there to pick up my online order.

C.Malloy says:
Nov-03-2017 11:48 am

Great article Matt Joe!

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TECHNOLOGY

Study: Online shoppers want a personalized experience

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Digital shoppers expect a personalized retail experience, a demand that’s forcing retailers to step up their engagement strategies for the holidays.

Specifically, 83% of customers expect a personalized retail experience — something that retailers should keep in mind with the holiday season mere weeks away from commencing, according to the “NectarOM Marketing Personalization Survey.”

According to the study, “personalized recommendations” and other digital technologies can more effectively guide customers toward making gift purchases this holiday season. A majority of retailers (88%) agree, adding that personalization is a top priority to meet evolving customer expectations.

This is good news for the 83% of customers who expect a personalized retail experience – in store, in app and long after they leave the store. However, only 44% of marketers have allocated sufficient budget and resources to implementing a personalized technology solution, according to the study.

Marketers are clearly still at the beginning of their personalization journey, as a mere 11% have fully implemented a technology solution. However, 33% are executing a proof of concept, and another 33% indicated personalization will be an initiative for 2018.

“The personalization expectations of customers continue to evolve,” said NectarOM CEO and founder, Amrit Kirpalani. “This survey reinforces that a personalized experience is essential to winning the hearts and minds of customers.”

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TECHNOLOGY

Online giant pushes up ‘Black Friday’ deals — to Nov. 1

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon is getting a jump on the holiday season by launching a curated sales site — and a new AR tool to snag deals.

The online giant has officially started its holiday season with the opening of its “Black Friday Store.” The micro site, which launched on Wednesday, Nov. 1, is a centralized location that features holiday deals across all categories.

More than 100 million items are featured and eligible for free shipping, as well as up to 30% savings. The deals will be available until Black Friday, Nov. 24.

With more than 70% of Amazon customers worldwide using a mobile device to shop on Amazon last holiday season, the online retailer took steps to make it easier to make mobile purchases this year. Specifically, Amazon launched of its new augmented reality service called “AR view.” The feature is available inside the Amazon App used on iPhone 6S or newer iOS devices.

Using Apple’s ARKit, AR view allows customers to visualize merchandise within their own living space — but products are not just limited to furniture and decor. Rather, customers can virtually position thousands of items across categories including living room, bedroom, kitchen and home office products to electronics, toys and games, home décor, among others.

Here’s how it works: Customers launch the Amazon App, click on the camera icon and choose AR view. They can then select an item, and overlay it onto their existing living space. Using their camera, they can view the merchandise, move it and rotate it 360 degrees.

Amazon also plans to leverage its fleet of Treasure Trucks this holiday season. Customers can opt-in to receive notifications from the Amazon App for special Treasure Truck offers, order the item, and pick-up at the truck throughout the shopping season. Treasure Truck is now available in 25 select cities.

Shoppers that need additional inspiration can also access Amazon’s library of curated gift guides, including ones for toys, electronics and home. The newest is a Business Gift Guide, a curated list of more than 200 items designed for gifting office employees, company clients and colleagues.

Throughout the holiday season, Amazon will continue to enable customers to voice shop with Alexa. In addition to giving customers access to “tens of millions” of Prime-eligible items, many of these products will also be available in the Black Friday Deals Store and the retailer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Guides.

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