Amid a slew of retail casualties facing bankruptcy this year, it seems fair to say that retail technology, in its ever-evolving nature, is both the cause of this problem, and the solution. Long-time fixtures in your local mall such as BCBG, The Limited, Wet Seal, American Apparel, Aeropostale and Bebe are just a few of the retailers to face a sell-off or reorganization.
At this point, it’s difficult to predict whether these once household-name retailers will simply fade into the enveloping ecommerce fog, or if they will restructure to contend in what is developing into an all-out omnichannel battle.
What is easy to forecast though, is that regardless of whether it is Walmart or Amazon, or perhaps even a wildcard like Alibaba that wins the fight, it is the consumer that the conflict is being tussled for.
That is to say it is the dear shopper who will emerge victorious with all the spoils of a retail war: great products, real savings, and superior service.
Getting great products has as much to do with the quality of the experience of purchasing the items, as it does with the quality of the products themselves.
It’s no secret that algorithms make online shopping a breeze.
In the market for some super-soft yoga pants? No problem. One search will yield advertising tailored to exactly what you want right now, complete with detailed product information and consumer reviews. Or, let’s say you found a fantastic shower curtain but didn’t know there was an entire line of accessories to match. Again, not much effort required on your part, marketing technology knows what else you might be interested in and can remind you of those items across all your devices.
But technology in retail isn’t constrained to ecommerce. In fact, despite the shuttering of so many storefronts, there are two big themes emerging in brick-and-mortar: immersive experiential stores, and innovative ways to use technology to improve the shopping experience.
One way to create the ultimate customer journey is through “brand stores”. More showroom than distribution center, they focus on brand message as opposed to pushing products. Stores are now expected to communicate their brand values (of growing consumer importance) such as social responsibility and community involvement, alongside detailed product information.
Under Armour, a sports apparel retailer, has already opened several such immersive experiential centers (Under Armour Brand House), allowing shoppers to control their shopping experiences in ways that can’t be provided online. Stores are designed according to local consumer demographics, most with a clean, modern look. Each department, now more an immersive zone, is dedicated to specific categories such as “Hiking and Trail”. Displayed on immense digital screens in each zone are the products, brand reinforcement communications, and all things immersive to the experience of the respective category. There’s even relevant music playing, based on the common tastes of other customers who shop in that zone.
The traditional showroom is also making a comeback, with a few bells and whistles thrown in. They allow you to ‘try before you buy’. Only now, showrooms have the same ingredients as a brand store, as well as a lounge, coffee shop and interactive tablets to customize your products. Or, if they are really on the cutting-edge of retail technology, a cognitive robot will assist you.
For example, if you have an old mattress that is causing back pain, you’re more likely to want to visit a physical location to find a good mattress, rather than running the risk of getting another inferior-back-pain-causing mattress because you can’t try it out first online. When you arrive at the mattress store, simply answer a few key questions either on a tablet, or with “James”, the cognitive robot, and resident mattress expert, for precise guidance and an enriched shopping experience. Then, lay down on the one bed determined by technology to be the best fit, relax, and allow your back to make the purchasing decision.
The real savings come from retailers cutting costs, thanks to retail technology.
Through big data and artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning, retailers are better able to anticipate demand and drive sales in future retail environments.
In a recent article by USA Today, Walmart announced that by relying on its own fleet of delivery trucks, the retail giant is able to cut costs and pass on the savings to customers by deepening already substantial discounts for online purchases that are picked up by shoppers at a nearby store. The discounted selection is expected to increase from thousands of products available now, to over 1 million by July 2017.
ShopperMX, a cloud-based virtual technology, provides store simulations and consumer insights that have enabled their clients to increase sales, efficiency, and better leverage market research. Using these virtual reality tools, the cereal brand Kellogg was able to cut out 50% of its display costs by testing different in-store display simulations. To their surprise, the most expensive to build displays performed poorly, while the less expensive options performed greatest.
No matter the technology, the end result is superior service for the shopper.
Without a doubt, it is the internet that forever changed the way we shop. It is indeed, the very catalyst that determined the fate of retailers, and how they conduct business. But it is the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, artificial intelligence, cognitive robots, and innovative uses of existing technology that will save some retail stores, and improve others.
In the end, consumers are purchasing great products faster at better prices, and truly engaging in their shopping experiences. Plus, no one really minds being fought over when they are the ones who will get to enjoy the spoils of the retail war.
Onestop Internet is an end-to-end ecommerce solutions provider, focusing on the end-consumer and their future application of technology to meet their shopping needs. Contact us to see how we can help your ecommerce business grow.