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5 Technology Trends That Will Transform Retail in 2017

Learn how retailers are using AI, VR, and more to improve the customer relationship.

February 21, 2017

Business leaders are struggling to address the challenges associated with changing consumer expectations and digital transformation. To protect market share and the health of their customer relationships, retailers especially need to invest in tools that enable personalization and consider how the latest technology can help improve the customer experience. Read on to learn more about five technology trends that will transform the retail sector in the years to come.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Virtual and Augmented Reality both exist to enrich the user experience; the chief difference between is that VR offers a digital recreation of a real-life environment, while AR lays computer-generated additions on top of the “real” world.

VR and AR have already been leveraged by several ecommerce apps and may soon shake up retail worldwide. Take, for example, American ecommerce giant eBay. The company has already started to invest in VR by launching the world’s first virtual reality department store. Using the eBay Virtual Reality Department Store app, customers “enter” the Australian virtual department store Myer and, using simple cardboard headsets, add products to the shopping basket.

Another example of VR and AR changing the retail landscape is FaceCake - a new AR platform that enables customers to “try on” products on their own likeness with just a few swipes in front of a screen.

 

In 2016 SoftServe unveiled an application for HTC Vive Chasm, that combines video, audio, graphics, and realistic special effects to offer users an immersive VR experience. With VR and AR gaining more interest across industries, we can expect that in the near future a new way of omni-channel shopping will become a way of life.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is not only a catchy buzzword, but the future of many applications and what will become the automated link between data and action for enterprise organizations. While many people still think of “AI” in terms of science fiction, it is the foundation of existing and emerging tools, from Siri to self-driving cars.

Many stores are already integrating AI technologies to their online stores, allowing a computer interface to shop on behalf of or in conjunction with their customers. One great example is outdoor retail leader The North Face, which recently launched an AI tool “to help you find the perfect jacket for your next adventure.”

  
Source: Outlook Series
 

According to a recent report called Frontier(less) Retail, consumers are very interested in how AI will be used to improve their shopping experience. In fact, the research showed 70% of US millennials, and 62% of UK respondents, believe they will value those brands that use AI technology to present their products and can predict the customer’s needs. Consumers, it seems, already understand that AI will make shopping easier and more personal, but many do not realize how quickly that change is coming.

Chatbots

During the F8 Developer Conference, Facebook unveiled chatbot services for its Messenger app, an improvement that will offer a new way of communicating with customers. Facebook users can interact with a personal shopper bot using mobile shopping app Spring and communicate with other brands. Today, chatbots are about incorporating existing technology into our daily lives, making shopping (and similar tasks) easier for the user. For example, SoftServe recently released VoiceMyBot, an Alexa skill that allows developers to receive information by syncing Amazon’s Echo with Atlassian’s HipChat.

 

Another benefit is that chatbots can cut expenses by lowering the number of chat operators and enable around-the-clock support. TechCrunch regards this trend as one of the biggest examples of digital transformation, saying chatbots are able to unlock the ability to provide personalized, interactive communication akin to talking to a human customer service or sales rep, but at scale and for much cheaper than call centers.

Mobile Experience

Mobile payments have already started becoming the norm among digital-savvy consumers. In fact, the popularity of mobile payment is growing worldwide; it’s predicted that by 2025, 75% of all transactions will be made without cash in the UK. And while digital leaders like Amazon are investing heavily in mobile payment, it should not be restricted to ecommerce organizations.

A recent example of mobile payment done right for brick-and-mortar is Starbucks, a pioneer in this space that has successfully managed to convince customers to pay for coffee using mobile wallets. The Starbucks app allows customers to scan a barcode to make a payment. It also has the added benefit of offering a loyalty program for app users.

  
Source: Digital Agency Network
 

Mobile is already significantly affecting shopping behavior, but it’s worth remembering that mobile payment technologies are particularly sensitive to security issues and, because they involve credit card details, appealing to hackers. To ensure mobile payment solutions are an advantage and not a liability, it’s important to invest in partners that can ensure security is a top priority.

Big Data and Personalization

Today’s consumers are demanding a personalized customer experiences, so retailers are already looking for ways to meet that demand. Big Data solutions can improve the function of many enterprise-level organizations, including retail. In theory, a company could collect billions of real-time data on its customers, and then use it instantaneously to optimize the customer experience.

Though many Big Data solutions are in development or already exist, the next frontier is decreasing the time between analysis and action.

Let’s consider the world’s leading designer and distributor of authentic footwear and apparel, Nike. The brand has always been innovative in terms of personalization (allowing shoppers to customize Nike shoes) but recently they’ve started using user data to customize content. They launched a series of fitness videos on the Nike app+ that offer adaptive coaching and expert advice.

With increased amounts of data, it is becoming easier to show content and products to the right people, at the right place, and at the right time. SoftServe digital experience leader Jess Vadino writes:

“If you aren’t providing your users with a personalized experience, you’re missing a major opportunity – and you run the risk of getting eclipsed by the competition.”

Simply put, “omni-channel” presents a significant shift in how consumers perceive shopping, and these trends are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of technology changes coming to the retail industry. Modern retailers that invest in engaging ways to improve the customer experience today have the best chance of being able to meet the needs and expectations of tomorrow’s digital consumers.

Looking for more? Learn how enterprises can use personalization to create multi-faceted customer engagement in SoftServe’s whitepaper on the “Click and Mortar Customer Experience.”

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