By Nikhil Mathur
The pace of change in the retail industry is driven by digital advancements, and what we term as intelligent retailing which includes a whole ambit of technologies like Big Data, AI, machine learning and varied solutions stemming from them. A rich experience is extremely relevant for shopping behaviour — a key factor for retailers that provides additional value and triggers new or additional purchases.
Blockchain is by far the most disruptive technology that can be adapted to redefine customer experience by focussing on areas where the customer interacts with the product or service, such as to incentivise customer loyalty by employing tokens. Initially used for financial transactions, blockchain technology has grown to offer e-payments, customer relationship management, big data analytics, etc, changing the way consumers buy.
Research indicates that consumers (even Gen Y and Gen Z) would rather shop in-store if it’s an enjoyable experience. Augmented and virtual reality technology like smart mirrors, digital dressing rooms and 3D live experience can help shoppers try products quickly. Experts have predicted that by 2020, the retail industry is slated to be the top spending industry on AR and VR, making the traditional purchasing experience easier, secure and enjoyable. Surprisingly, it is slowly being also adopted by small and medium businesses.
For creating a seamless shopping experience, it is indispensable to connect online with offline channels. Round-the-clock availability and situational independence are slowly becoming inevitable. This has led to the trend of ‘click and collect’, ‘click and reserve’ and ‘select and ship’ models.
In case the product is unavailable, the store could then have a real-time ERP system and up-to-date information linked to its warehouse, informing consumers of the product availability. This technology could eliminate the issue of a more limited assortment that traditional retailers experience versus online retailers.
To maximise ROI per square metre, retailers must determine ‘the most attractive zones’, and organise product allocation and shelving accordingly. For real-time inventory tracking, quick facial recognition of products and image/gesture recognition coupled with intelligent algorithms can be used for heat mapping within the store. For security purpose, it can also determine the movement of a product from store inventory to a customer’s cart. Security retail trends include a whole new set of hardware and software solutions, including electronic tills, RFID tags, wet tags, sensors and enhanced cameras, used in conjunction with real-time algorithms.
As technology becomes an integral part of our lives, providing transparency and relevance to shoppers is crucial. This is possible using technologies like beacons, geo-fencing and near-field communication; creating awareness among consumers who are not yet customers and also retaining or up-selling to an existing customer. Electronic shelf labels and digital signages can assist the retailer to efficiently control product information dissemination, pricing and promotions from a central system.
Last but not the least, to ease the purchase process, automation in retail is catching up, enabling retailers with more time for value-added services. For instance, an in-store robot to ‘greet and guide’ consumers to the appropriate section of the store, voice assistant technology and automated check-out with smartphones.
For retailers, aligning their strategy to create an efficient, secure and transparent value chain is essential for an enhanced shopping experience, and to satiate the highly demanding and informed customer.