The modern retail industry is in a state of a paradox. On one side, online shopping is growing tremendously. On the other hand, brick-and-mortar retail is still very much part of the shopper’s journey. According to 2016 report of International Council of Shopping Centers, 89% of the consumers opted to shop at stores with both a physical store and online presence, further stressing the importance of the omnichannel experience.
Both the channels offer their own perks. Online shopping offers deep discounts and convenience, while in-store shopping creates an experience that inspires brand loyalty.
In this article, we will take a look at the top three technologies that are dominating the retail industry and shaping omnichannel retail.
Grab and Go Checkout:
In an attempt to merge the best of online and in-store retail channels, Amazon is reportedly launching it’s ‘Grab and Go Checkout’ stores known as Amazon Go.
As the name suggests, in these stores, you can grab what you want and just checkout- without queuing at the counter for payment. When a customer enters the store, he/she must scan the QR code on the Amazon app to gain access to the store. Through a complex network of cameras and sensors installed on the shelves, Amazon knows when a customer picks up a product and places it in the cart. The products are automatically updated in the virtual cart. When done, the customer can simply walk out of the store. Amazon automatically bills the customer for the amount and sends a receipt.
The concept for ‘Grab and Go checkout’ isn’t new. IBM was the first to work on it, almost a decade earlier. However, it wasn’t until recent that retailers have been pushed by the hyper-competitive retail market to invest in this technology. Walmart has its own variant of ‘Grab and go checkout’, which has been implemented in Sam’s Club stores. Customers can add products to their carts as they browse through the aisles and scan through a ‘Scan & Go’ app. They can then pay through the app and show the receipt at checkout.
While WalMart’s solution is a more basic approach, compared to Amazon Go, both retailers are attempting to create more convenient and more engaging in-store experiences for shoppers.
Ever since Facebook integrated a payment system within Messenger for chatbots, a new era of commerce was born, called conversational commerce.
Using complex machine learning algorithms and data gathered from millions of data sources, AI tools intend to comprehend the customer’s demands based on multiple factors, such as purchase history, and browsing history. Chatbots can message shoppers in realtime to answer their questions and facilitate their path to purchase. Over time, these tools have the ability to learn a customer’s preferences, be smarter and provide personalized recommendations to users.
AI chatbots leverage consumer habits. Pizza Hut and Domino’s have already tested with chatbots. Customers can order pizza just by chatting in Facebook Messenger, instead of having to go through an app, a website or a telephone.
IBM is working on several initiatives that don’t just provide conversational interfaces for shoppers, but also leveragesthe customer’s data to make smarter choices and decisions. Retailers can make use of smart AI-bots to act as shopping assistants for consumers, where based upon a series of questions, the customer is provided with tailor-made suggestions. Over time, the AI interface analyses a shopper’s habits to able to predict the most appropriate products. 1800-Flowers.com has a similar AI-powered gift concierge.
Such AI models can also be used to make backend operations more effective. IBM is developing tools as “IBM Commerce Insights” and “Watson Order Optimizer”, which monitor data such as weather patterns, consumer behavior, and purchase rates to make the supply chain more efficient. This will help retailers to avoid out-of-stock or overstock situations.
Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that has taken the retail industry by storm. AR introduces a new level of interaction between the product and the consumer. AR helps enhance the sensory experience of online shopping, engaging customers like never before.
AR can be used either through HMDs (Head-Mounted Displays) or through mobile. AR-enabled HMDs are still in a nascent stage and used in limited industrial applications. AR apps, however, have found a stronghold in the retail industry today.
With an AR enabled app like Augment, shoppers can simulate 3D virtual products in the real world in realtime through their smartphone’s camera viewer.
For instance, if you are selling furniture, the customer can use AR to assess the appearance of the furniture in his/her own home. Or if it is a big apparel store, you can use AR trial rooms to help customers try on clothes virtually and save them the hassle of trying and testing several clothes. Or if you sell industrial equipment, you can use AR apps at demonstrations of your machines.
AR is now being widely used by retailers, both online, as well as, in physical outlets. In an age where companies like Amazon and Walmart are experimenting relentlessly with innovative technology to improve the customer experience, AR is a solution applicable for businesses of all sizes.