Here’s some great news for customers. Technology is set to be adopted at a far faster rate by retailers than ever before, allowing for smarter and more intuitive instore shopping experiences in the years ahead.
That’s the view of Emma Sharley, a marketing consultant and the co-founder of mobile shopping app ShopYou. Sharley notes that retailers are already embracing technologies like dynamic pricing, RFID tags, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, mobile apps, chat tools and voice assistants to create intelligent store spaces where customers will stay longer and spend more.
“With the pace of technological change and a lack of time and resources, more retailers are also partnering with third party platforms and start-ups to bring cutting-edge technologies into the store experience,” adds Sharley.
“The next phase of retail is about creating a personalised, quick and easy shopping experience, to save the customer time – their most precious commodity. Customers want to be able to shop how they want, where they want and when they want. As we move into the ‘Age of You’, retailers are also creating products, services and experiences that are more personal and exceed expectations of sophisticated buyers and digital natives.”
So what are some of the more innovative retailers doing?
Sharley cites US fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, which consistently introduces new applications to solve customer pain points.
“It was an early adopter of the intelligent dressing room, RFID tags that influence buying decisions in real-time and wearable tech that’s fashionable,” she says.
“Digital has been embedded in its culture from day one and its aptitude to rapidly test and learn in small doses before launching to the wider audience lies behind its success. It also involves the customer along the way, understanding the power of the value exchange and transparency.”
Saskia Fairfull, founder of the Independent Fashion Advisory Board and retail marketing manager at Brauz, observes that US-based eco-chic fast fashion label Reformation is turning to touch screens and smart dressing rooms to make an impact instore. Ralph Lauren has connected its fitting rooms with RFID technology to remove friction from the customer experience and help it make smarter merchandising decisions. And London-based designer Martine Jarlgaard uses blockchain to communicate manufacturing transparency – barcodes on its garments can be scanned for customers to see where they came from.
Sharley adds that some large retailers are creating incubation hubs to mimic start-up thinking, such as Ikea’s Space 10 and Walmart’s Store 8.
“Locally, with 80 per cent of searches starting online, retailers such as Officeworks are introducing technology to enable search outside of store. It recently launched its Google Assistant product which allows customers to search for product information and store opening times from their Google Home devices.
Looking ahead, Sharley expects retailers to use technology to create more engaged ‘super users’, defined by their passion and knowledge of the brand, and then to involve them in the creation of instore innovation and new shopping experiences.
“We’ll see store channels operate more efficiently and the further adoption of the unmanned store concept that Amazon Go has spearheaded,” she says.
“Technology will also play a part in enabling creative brand experiences, speed and efficiency and how quickly a product can be moved to sell-through in a store. We’ll see new offerings in the find and search realm, real-time marketing, delivery and payment processes.”
Fairfull foresees a future where retailers will provide theatre-quality entertainment while ensuring significantly less wastage through on-demand manufacturing processes.
She doesn’t expect in-store customers to be forced to simply search through racks of clothes and shelves of items until they find what they actually want.
Instead, Fairfull believes retailers will recognise their customers by name and the conversation may go like this:
“Jacinta, hey! My name is Will. Thanks for dropping by *brand*. The garments you liked in our app are just over here. Alternatively, have a play with the interactive screens and [I’ll] get your dressing room ready.”