Emerging Technology: Powering The Next Stage of Retail

What do the world’s largest retailers have in common? They are all heavily investing in retail technology advancements.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen considerable developments made in the field of retail technology, making it more intelligent and consumer focused than ever before. The Adidas store in Oxford Circus, for example, took the London high street by storm earlier this year with its experiential-focused design and investment in artificial reality technology. As we navigate through COVID-19, it is evident that today’s top retailers are betting on their technology investments to maximise customer satisfaction and loyalty. But what should we watch out for?
Staff-Free and Cashier-Free Experiences 
 The drive towards technology was taking off well before 2020, but in this new COVID-era, it has forced retailers to intensify their technological investment. The shoppers’ new and fragile comfort level has really emphasised and questioned whether we need human interaction when it comes to transactions. Should cashier-less and staff-free stores become the new norm to reduce the amount of contact?
It appears that FMCG retailers think so as everyone is looking towards Amazon’s new retail solution that seems to be lighting the way. In Amazon’s two format stores, Amazon Fresh and Amazon Go, the latest AI technology is used to allow the shopper to enter the store, select any products they need and then walk back out with the transaction taking place through their account on their phone. The larger format store allows customers to complete transactions directly on their trolley. Tools to enable retailers to do this include computer vision systems and facial recognition. Dotted around the store is Alexa, who now also acts as a customer service assistant, able to answer any query a shopper may have. The race is now on to see which retailer will launch their own version next and how can they build on this new shopper experience?

Augmented Shopping 
As a result of the pandemic, when walking into a retail store, the customer can no longer physically try clothes on. The isolation and quarantine, therefore, has increasingly made retailers think about how to entice customers into physical stores whilst still giving them the same shopping experience. The answer: augmented shopping.
Guided by the ‘try before you buy’ approach of a physical retail store, technology such as virtual fitting room systems attracts customers in by allowing them to interact with products online. But this is not a trend to emerge from COVID-19. Apple’s LIDAR scanner, launched not so long ago, has significant potential for augmented shopping and AR in general. Shoppers will be able to place virtual items on physical surfaces with millimetric precision, recognise physical objects, and provide realistic interactions between real and virtual goods.
Virtual Stores
As we see more lockdowns in Europe, we believe that we will see more retailers create virtual copies of their stores for customers to explore in the comfort of their own homes.
In the early part of this year, Dior launched their 3D tour of their Champs Elysées store where the viewer can walk around, select products and be taken to their site for further details and the opportunity to purchase online. 
Not only are retailers creating 3D environments to shop from but brands are using them as an effective tool to launch products this year. Fenty Beauty created a computer-generated house party complete with chat rooms and a virtual dance floor while also showcasing newly launched products. Will this be the future of physical retail stores and experiences, by creating them exclusively online? 
While there is a lot of uncertainty around navigating Christmas shopping this year, John Lewis launched their 3D Christmas shop online at the beginning of this month. The comprehensive virtual environment makes it easy for shoppers to explore and purchase while being in a very familiar and festive environment. We ask who is next to embrace this trend?

Artificial Intelligence 
Cleaning, moving goods from shelves, tracking and analysis of shelf inventory are all tasks not just for humans anymore. Robots, in conjunction with artificial intelligence, are expected to help retailers cut costs and improve store operations in the future. For example, the LoweBot is an autonomous retail service robot which not only uses multiple languages and helps customers, it also assists employees with inventory monitoring in real-time, detecting patterns that might guide future business decisions. 

Many retailers will likely use service robots in the future for the improvement of in-store operations, load reduction of store employees and gathering data from their customers. However, robots are also well-suited for social distancing, making them a perfect option to explore in a pandemic. Pepper, a robot, has been introduced in EDEKA supermarkets in Germany to guide customers so that they follow social distancing measures!

Regardless of what challenges the COVID-19 pandemic brings to us, we can think about it as an opportunity for improvement. As digital innovations and consumer trends continue to emerge each day, what will be the next trend to embrace retail technology?