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35 (130) 2018
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Technology & Future

Technology trends change retail trade

By Olgierd Cygan - Deloitte Digital Leader in Central Europe
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In the era of e-commerce the message that brick-and-mortar stores will be extinguished soon keeps returning.

At the same time, 90 percent of retail sales take place right there. In order to successfully compete with the convenience of on-line stores, availability of goods and the unique digital experience, brick-and-mortar stores must provide their clients with valuable experience through a variety of channels to build a permanent relationship with their brand. Technology is the right tool to do so. Below we highlight the trends that mark the future of retail trade.

Internet vastly changed the world of trade. Clients are able to buy goods in a variety of digital channels at any time. Manufacturers are offered broad opportunities, previously out of reach, and tools developed not only to allow more efficient sales, but to learn more about client experience a preferences. Fast growth of Internet sales was accompanied with the recurring message that the era of brick-and-mortar (B&M) stores is gone. But, as often happens to such prophecies, this one seems to be false. Why?

First, clients want to see, touch, and test products before purchase.

Second, they favor direct contact with salespeople who can provide additional information, help and offer an advice.

What changed, then?  Most of all, the consumers’ self-awareness.  Now everything is client-centered. Clients expects the brands they are in touch with to provide an interesting narrative, offer tailored to their preferences, consistent and engaging communication and exceptional customer experience at POS.  This is why brands perceive their B&M stores as a place of building client relations that later translate into growing sales. Modern technologies may make the experience truly unique, and enhance their relation with a given brand. Below we discuss trends that change the retail sales.
 

Recent retail landscape

Many changes, innovative solutions and directions were observed in the retail landscape in recent years. In 2012, when e-commerce was growing rapidly, many specialists prophesied the end of B&M stores.  Salespeople, on the other hand, treated e-commerce as an experiment and thoroughly divided it from traditional sales forms.  Two years later nobody believed that Internet sales could replace traditional shopping, but clients were more interested in using new digital brand touchpoints expecting knowledge and consistent communication. This originated the concept of efficient interchannel information flow, today known as omnichannel operation.

Subsequent years brought more focus on personalization and unique customer experience. Demanding clients expected more of brands and did shopping where their experience satisfied their needs.  The year 2017 was a breakthrough for the retail sector, as it marked the big comeback of B&M points of sales. Although they had never disappeared, the comeback regarded mostly opportunities offered by modern technology. Amazon and Alibaba opened B&M stores offering both off-line and on-line customer experience, with technology allowing prompt collection of customer data.

Amazon and Alibaba: the trendsetters

They compete with each other. Both made their first steps as e-commerce startups, so-called pure players.  Today they are globally recognized, multi-billion-trade businesses, selling both on- and off-line and setting trends.  The success of both consists in investing in entirely new ideas and solutions that work both for e-commerce and retail sales. The growth of Amazon and Alibaba proves that the originators of both have an insatiable appetite for innovation, but also serves as a good example of successful combination of e-commerce with B&M sales for other brands. Retailers face a great challenge of adjusting their POS to the requirements of contemporary clients. The monitoring of trends pays off in this respect; B&M shops must become a vital touchpoint for consumers, providing them with unique experience, adjusted to their needs and preferences.

Brick-and-mortar stores in the digital era

Digital means client-centered, with client data being the commodity most wanted by providers of goods and services.  Clients use intelligent technologies, appreciate their time, are better informed and know where to find important information.  This makes them more demanding and less tolerant for errors in the purchasing process. Further, they expect efficient interchannel brand communication, brick-and-mortar stores being perceived as one of these channels. If a brand fails to meet their expectations, they do not hesitate to turn to competitors.  How, then, can we build client loyalty in the new conditions? Retailers make the classic mistake trying to build loyalty of their clients by offering large promotions or rebates. Contemporary clients, though, stick to brands whose narration corresponds to their life stories.

Future trends provoke current changes

How to build strong relations with consumers and provide them with unique experience in brick-and-mortar stores? Big data and newest technologies can help.  The four strongest technology trends that can turn upside down consumer experience in B&M stores and help manufacturers collecting valuable client data include:

Biometric technology

Using biometrics is seen in all places where fingerprints or faces are read.  In everyday life it allows fast and effective user identification or access to mobile devices.  In shops it is successfully used to authorize all sorts of actions, e.g. completing transactions and payments.  Many global retailers, such as Alibaba, experiment with the biometric technology.  The company carried out the “Pay with a selfie” project using the face recognition function in purchase transactions. Under the project, clients could do shopping paying with their selfie. The trend of using biometrics in retail grows in popularity. In the near future, the transaction process in stores may completely change, which will result in increased client satisfaction and reduced salespeople’s burden.  Automated POS systems and new touchpoints can work very well in B&M shops.

AI & self-learning machines

Today artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used in any aspect of everyday life. These modern technologies work very well in medicine, banking, comprehensive data management, marketing, advertisement and... retail trade. Specialists use AI and machine learning to improve process efficiency in stores and consumer experience in POS. Macy’s uses AI in its in-store application that allows clients to navigate around the store, and North Face uses it to accompany clients on its website. The interactive support during shopping, responding to voice commands, means big convenience and interesting experience for the brand’s clients. In future, AI and machine learning may successfully support salespeople. Using these technologies, systems will provide detailed information and recommendations regarding products in real time, which will further improve the quality of service offered by salespeople.

Computer vision

Computer vision is a technology which allows a real-time feedback based in photos and video. It allows automation of salespeople’s roles that require visual knowledge, such as checking inventory or observing preferences and profiles of clients who visit their store. Such companies as Monolith20 build algorithms that allow construction of client profiles and analysing their behavior or preferences at POS. Based on this knowledge specialists obtain recommendations regarding process optimization, product displays, or salespeople’s tasks. Computer vision allows retailers to better understand their clients and to obtain valuable insight.  Combining computer vision with other technologies, such as RFID (radio-frequency identification) in the store space helps to analyze client/product interactions in details, allows collecting comprehensive data and analyzing them for various client touchpoints The Belgrade Connected Store Experiment, carried out for Legend World Wide, provides a good example. In its course specialists want to learn more about products: which are popular among clients, most frequently tried on, and which do not raise any interest.  A special platform shall collect and analyze data to provide comprehensive information on both clients and their interactions with products.

Internet of Things

Less than 20 years passed since Internet started to change the retail landscape. The new technology continues to bring a completely new reality, which is Internet of Things (IoT). Special sensors placed around a store allow detailed analysis of collected data. IoT opens up entirely new opportunities for salespeople. It hints when to replenish goods on shelves and when to go out to meet a client. Advanced IoT platforms provide new opportunities, collect and analyze complex data from shops and thus allow making more informed decisions. PTC ThingWorx21, one of such platforms, is used by Legend World Wide in Belgrade.  The platform manages data, produces recommendations and provides comprehensive analyses.

Will robots replace salespeople?

For several decades employees of B&M stores were charged with quite many duties, to include clients service, assistance and advice, safety of the store, opening and closing it, and comprehensive stock management. Will robots take over their roles? Certainly not as far as the key issue of contacts with clients is concerned. And although clients are interested in technology innovations in stores, they prefer contact with human sellers. Involvement and interactions vastly influence general impression of a store visit and client satisfaction, and advanced technologies will not change this.  

Advanced technologies are unlikely to change the picture.  Businesses of today are aware of vast potential of salespeople, who may become key players building top quality customer experience.  They are the ones who turn happy visitors into loyal clients and brand ambassadors. How about robots? Let them take over certain duties to allow salespeople to spend more time with clients.

Summary

The above trends work today in the retail sector and may successfully develop in future. The retail landscape is changing rapidly, supplied with new technologies and opportunities.  Professionals should monitor changes to know what may work in POS. Traditionally, B&M sales were not place for technologies to play a leading role, but the advanced opportunities at hand change everything.  It is important to understand how the technology supports the work of traditional POS and affects their performance, salespeople’s work and, most importantly, client experience, which is the key.

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