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Retail and technology have a complicated relationship. Technology has an unending list of ideas for retail stores to adopt, but the retail industry is very cautious about investing in anything unless it knows that customers will be onboard. As a result, retail tech tends to advance in fits and starts, rapidly changing in short periods of time. Unless you’re caught up on the latest trends and know which are here to stay, it’s easy to get caught off guard.
We’re currently in a period where technology has a lot to offer retail, so it’s especially important to pay attention. Here are the big ways things are already changing.
Brick-and-Mortar Shopping No Longer Exists
Oh sure, customers can still drive down and walk into a variety of stores where they can peruse products. But true brick-and-mortar experiences don’t exist anymore — because every one of those customers has a smartphone in their pocket or purse, and those phones link them to the internet and all the online shopping opportunities they could want.
This is huge news that retailers have been a little slow to accept. They can no longer control what the customer sees, even when the customer is in the store. And people, especially the younger generation, are more willing than ever to pull out their phones and take a look at other stores and buying options to see if they can find a better version or a cheaper price elsewhere. And now that companies like Amazon are expanding their grocery services, that’s even true of everyday food products and other items that were relatively safe from comparison shopping. It’s vital to remember that online shopping isn’t just a computer experience — it’s everywhere, including inside stores.
Mobile Tech Will Make Transactions Even Easier
Speaking of the power of smartphones, we’re already seeing the massive growth of smartphone payment systems that use digital wallets and NFC chips for fast payment. Retail has been slow to embrace this option for a variety of reasons — chief among them, consumers weren’t quite sure what to make of it, and digital wallets had limited, brand-oriented functions. Now Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay and other wallets have grown more flexible and people are more willing to use them. Within the next several years, expect to see self-checkout stands give way to more mobile pay options that make the whole experience easier to manage.
But payments aren’t the only things phones can do. The smartphone is becoming part of the buying experience in other ways, allowing customers to look up detailed information about any product in their hands. Retailers that provide this type of information will have an edge.
Stores Already Know What You Want
Thanks to advanced CRM systems, retailers are collecting a vast amount of data on individual customers and what they are buying. In the online world, this is leading to more accurate predictions about products being bought. Instead of “It looks like you might like this,” online stores are moving toward an “It’s time to renew your order of this” model. Amazon is one company leading the way on this, but customer data is available to most retailers, so expect prediction to become increasingly important.
Delivery Is the New Checkout
While online companies are experimenting with drone deliveries and other fanciful methods, brick-and-mortar retailers are using technology in an entirely different way: To sell and deliver. We’re seeing a new wave of traditional retail stores — especially grocery and foodstuff stores — encouraging people to order online instead of coming into the store. This warehouse-like model then divides into two different options: Either delivery right to your front door (an option that has been tried repeatedly in past years but looks like it’s sticking around this time), or delivery to your car after you pull up in the parking lot. Customers save time either way, but this does raise questions about just what the inside of the store is for these days. It’s also worth noting that this method allows people to shop at any time of the day and arrange a delivery at their convenience.
Businesses Hope You Like Robots
Automation is coming to all industries, but it turns out that robots are a pretty great fit for retail. They are excellent at repetitive tasks like stacking, folding, and noting inventory levels. Some retailers have even started to experiment with robots that move around the aisles with friendly touch screens that let shoppers ask questions or find more product information. Of course, robotics does come with downsides: It requires heavy investment and raises a long list of employment questions.
Our Assistants Are Doing the Shopping for Us
By “assistants” we’re talking about voice assistants, which are growing more complex and more involved in our daily lives all the time. The primary example here is Amazon’s Alexa, which allows you to instantly order via Prime just by talking to “her.” Tell Alexa that you’re out of chips, and she’ll put it on the list. Tell her to buy chips, and you don’t even have to get out your credit card. Combine this type of helpfulness with free deliveries, and suddenly the future feels a whole lot closer.
Chatbots Will Answer Our Questions
Chatbots are an interesting development that have taken many in the online retail world by surprise. These automated bots pop open a chat window and do their best to sound like a real person to any visitor. They ask how they can help, and people can ask them in turn about product availability, pricing, discounts, and other things. Advanced chatbots can even facilitate the buying process. This holds a lot of promise for online retailers that can create or pay for good chatbots that assist buyers.
These trends are just a few ways that retail is changing. Are you ready for it? We can help you make sure! ClearPath IT Solutions offers a variety of services and solutions to companies in Central Illinois. Feel free to ask us questions or find out more about our plans by contacting us at (309) 263-5600 or sending us a message at sales@clearpathIT.com.