You don’t need a crystal ball to see that retail digitisation will be a big trend in 2018. Technology advancements continue to transform how consumers shop and how retailers meet their customers’ needs. Yet some retail predictions can seem very futuristic indeed. How can you possibly reconcile these leading-edge developments with the daily pressures of running your retail operations? Here we explore three predictions and a few practical ways to act on them…
The prediction: Artificial intelligence (AI) will “start its march into the hearts of retail businesses, beyond its customer service application, and is likely to be among the most influential technologies in the coming year,” according to the Drapers article “The 2018 digital game changers.” Stores, a publication of the National Retail Federation, also highlighted AI among eight key 2018 predictions. “Most claim its greatest value is as a tool to enable differentiated customer experiences. According to Gartner research, 85 percent of retail customer interaction will be managed by AI by 2020; 30 percent of all companies will employ the technology to augment at least one primary sales process by then,” Stores reported.
What to do now: Think in terms of customer and store intelligence. Leverage all of the data you already have to its fullest. That way, when you add a lot more data, which is inevitable with AI, you will have laid the groundwork for how to manage it. For many luxury and fashion apparel retailers, this involves breaking down any remaining silos that are keeping your information from flowing freely across your growing retail enterprise. This year, make it a priority to put all of the customer and product information you have at the fingertips of your store associates and customer service representatives (CSR). Equip them to tailor their service to the individual customer. Today, this data often resides in disparate systems, making it difficult for your teams to deliver a frictionless shopping experience.
Voice Search, Digital Assistants and Facial Recognition
The prediction: comScore says 50 percent of all online searches will be by voice by 2020, according to Stores. Likewise, Drapers interviewed digital retail experts who pointed to the promise of digital voice assistants such as Amazon Echo Look, which “has a built-in camera, as well as speakers, allowing a consumer to use it to take pictures and speak to it in a conversational way about what they should wear that day.” Drapers noted, “Emotion-tracking software is also becoming more sensitive, meaning these devices will soon be able to respond appropriately if they detect someone’s annoyance or excitement.” Along the same vein of computers handling consumer interactions, facial recognition is gaining traction as a payment method in China. With enough AI, it’s not hard to imagine how emotion-tracking software could be intertwined with facial recognition software, too.
What to do now: Use every tool at your disposal to tune into — to truly know and understand — your existing and target customers and give them the frictionless experience they desire. Empower store associates and CSR teams to be trusted advisers and brand ambassadors. After all, that’s ultimately why consumers turn to Alexa and Siri — for instant access to helpful information. No doubt your sales associates are already skilled in the art an active listening, cross-selling and upselling. How else would your brand be as successful as it is today? They excel at forging customer relationships. They can see that look in the customer’s eye when she is leaning toward a purchase and just needs a little encouragement or a special offer to close the sale. But in 2018, to be expert guides, they also need to know what your customers are searching for and buying on your website and liking on your social media channels. To facilitate transactions seamlessly, they need to know exactly where products are located and how to best get them to the consumer. There are omnichannel POS solutions you can roll out right now with this capability. Then whether or not you have your own digital assistants someday, your valued store teams can engage with shoppers from a 360-degree vantage point that transcends digital and physical commerce channels.
Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality
The prediction: Gartner predicts 100 million consumers will shop via augmented reality (AR) by 2020, according to Stores. Moreover, retailers are likely to lean more on virtual reality (VR) for store layout planning. And don’t forget what Stores calls the “love child” of AR and VR: mixed reality (MR). The magazine provided this helpful description: “MR uses sensors, advanced optics, and next-gen computing power to map and track surroundings, merging real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. Think about an MR mannequin that is a shopper’s exact body type and can be dressed with future purchases — talk about a ‘wow’ factor.”
What to do now: Think about what changes to your store experience would add the greatest value to your customers and how VR, AR or MR could complement and enhance the shopping journey. Whether you specialize in luxury goods, fashion apparel, beauty or jewellery, perhaps 2018 will be a prime year for test piloting new retail concepts and store designs? Stores predicted that more retailers will adopt showrooming strategies this year. As an example, the magazine highlighted the new Nordstrom Local concept store, packed less with products and more with services, from beauty salons to personal stylists. You know your customers better than anyone. What “wow” factors will delight them the most?
Let Cegid help you brainstorm about the customer experience you want to create in 2018. Contact us today to learn more about technologies you can implement now to pave the way.