Experts don’t always get it right.
But experience matters, especially when revenue is on the line. In those moments, it helps to get a trusted opinion.
We asked 10 industry experts one big question about the future of retail technology:
What are your 3 predictions for how technology will reshape brick and mortar retail in the next few years?
While their answers varied, there were common themes around enhancing the customer experience, increasing data security, and more blending of online and offline retailers.
Here’s what the experts came up with:
For Alder Riley, the Owner/CEO of Ideastostuff, “[customer] experience is king.”
Riley predicted that retailers will find sustainability by integrating AR and VR to build unique experiences for customers such as changing in-store decor on the fly or tailoring new looks based on each individual customer that walks in the door. The notion here is that automation and robotics will free up store employees to be more customer-facing as routine duties such as stocking and cleaning are taken up by machines.
One big takeaway from Alder is that data will start bleeding into the product mix. He predicts that valuable subsets of data (behavioral, taste, purchase, etc.) will be constantly harvested, allowing for features like in-store printing services pulled from sources such as customers’ social media likes.
The growing role of AI in product development was a consistent theme.
Matt Field, President and Co-founder of MakerSights, predicted that more “winning products, born out of human-machine partnerships” would be produced through the use of AI. One example is Stitch Fix, which developed its own “Hybrid Designs” based on sales and attribute feedback from customers. More brands will leverage predictive modeling with software platforms like MakerSights to translate their troves of product and purchase data into trend and styling recommendations.
Field also predicted that 3D would finally make it mainstream. 3D has the ability to dramatically streamline design and supply chain processes and thrill consumers with novelty applications of 3D tech. The prospect of 3D gaining widespread usage across the retail ecosystems means that faster and more cost-effective digital design is near.
Where did that box of mangoes come from?
Being able to answer such a question is a big deal for companies like Walmart and IBM working together to track down contaminated foods and products.
More companies will employ blockchain technology within the supply chain to quickly track and get out the word about focused recalls to specified parties, according to Morvareed Z. Salehpour, Esq., Attorney and Managing Partner at Salehpour Legal Consulting.
Salehpour also cited AmazonGo as an example of how automation will likely reduce the need for employees in retail stores. She also predicted an increased reliance on e-commerce alongside the conversion of brick and mortar locations into storefronts for customers to try products they will then order online.
Retailers will learn to take product orders not just from customers, but also from their devices.
According to Robin Scott, Director at Silicon Dales, IoT devices will soon be helping customers replenish their supplies of certain products. Just like Alexa and Siri are already accomplishing tasks for customers, IoT devices will step up in the same way.
Scott also suggested that same-day delivery will become the norm for online stores with a brick and mortar outlet. His caution was that much of this convenience will come through service providers where a few players like Uber are entering the space.
Brick and mortar stores will increasingly need an online offering, as many are already becoming locations to collect online orders for customers. Finding ways to enhance this by building dedicated collection areas into stores will become normal, according to Scott.
When this happens, up-selling and cross-selling opportunities will abound.
5G will be a gamechanger, according to Susan Sweeney at Computer Generated Solutions, Inc.
Sweeney predicted an increasing share of e-commerce sales versus brick and mortar fueled by 5G networks that further the reality of IoT, 3D, AR/VR, and personalization in the market. Data and goods will simply move faster and the pace of change in the retail landscape will accelerate.
Platform technology, connected supply chains, and manufacturing advances will drive visibility beyond inventory on hand as well, according to Sweeney. This means that retailers will have the ability to access more goods as buyers will be able to access what consumers are demanding in a quicker timetable.
In short, customers will become their own buyers as technology enables on-demand production.
That’s a brave new (retail) world.
Mikhail Damiani, CEO of Blue Bite, believes storytelling gets better with our devices, not worse.
Imagine a customer tapping on a pair of NFC-enabled shoes with their phone. They unlock content far beyond anything that could be printed on a hangtag or a traditional retail display placard. That’s the bright future that Damiani envisions.
Overall, Damiani sees more opportunities for customers to engage with the physical space in stores using their phones as the remote control for the experience. Retailers will adapt as the brick and mortar retail experience becomes less fragmented and disconnected from what consumers are doing on their mobile devices.
The predicted result: Fewer digital screens and fancy displays shouting at customers and more direct and personalized engagement.
Expect physical and digital experience to become more and more integrated.
Retailers will necessarily respond to market pressures to implement technology more effectively and that means developing a more complete customer journey. That’s one big insight from Matt Sebek, Vice President of Digital at World Wide Technology (WWT).
According to Sebek, engaging customers across multiple channels and platforms while making shopping experiences more frictionless will become critical. Brands will be continuously developing innovations to stay relevant and top of mind for new and existing customers. Capabilities like “scan and go” and “click and collect” are two examples of this trend.
Sebek also predicts that AI will continue to reshape the purchase process and eliminate costly mistakes and fraud through the use of machine learning, a big win for retailers looking to cut costs.
Jordan Ekers believes brick and mortar retail will evolve, not perish. He’s the Chief Customer Officer and Co-founder at Nudge Rewards who predicts that the major challenge for retailers will be removing friction from online and offline experiences in an omnichannel world.
When it comes to younger consumers, Ekers shared that they haven’t given up on in-store experiences and therefore retail staff is still important to the personalized experiences that upwardly-mobile millennials are seeking. The data seems to prove him right here.
According to Retail Dive, two-thirds of millennials shop in stores every week and they’re seeking out the human side of the brand. A recent study by ChargeItSpot reveals that 66% of millennials consider in-store associates to be “extremely important” during their store visits. This suggests, and Eker predicts, that the next big transformation in retail will focus heavily on the employee.
Retailers may increasingly grasp the influence of associates on in-store conversion and overall brand affinity. Employee-focused mobile technology is playing a key role here, equipping store associates with the tools and information they need to increase performance, decrease engagement challenges and ultimately deliver a better customer experience.
When it comes to the customer experience, Ekers sees significant digitization happening at the moment where retailers are unleashing insights, technology, and innovation to offer consumers a wider mix of transactional and experiential channels to engage with at their own pace.
Andy Reinhard, CEO at Wondersign, believes retailers will continue to cater to consumer desires for instant gratification through production on demand. 3D printing and tariffs on commoditized goods from overseas will propel this trend, according to Reinhard.
Visual searching and shopping will accelerate due to machine learning, further enabling social commerce as well. This could drive traffic for local stores for purposes of in-person product experiences or picking up goods.
Lastly, Reinhard suggests that retailers will offer more online, mobile, voice product ordering alongside more brand-driven physical experience centers allowing for BOPIS, returns, and community events. This represents an opportunity for independent retailers to obtain a brand store license or run them as shop-in-shop concepts.
Trevor Sumner, CEO at Perch Interactive, calls it “The Internet of Eyes.”
He predicts unprecedented visibility into store activity (using repurposed security cameras) for retailers enabling a new wave of in-store merchandising, marketing, and optimization. Retailers could do everything from adjusting which products shoppers are touching to providing cashierless checkout for customers using this technology.
Sumner predicts an explosion of in-store data that will at first confuse retailers, then become the key differentiator in their success. There will be a significant need for an influx of data scientists, architects, and analysts to help retailers take action based on the new insights available to them.
In short, those retailers without a data orientation will lag behind the digitally native upstarts.
Lastly, Sumner is optimistic about brick and mortar retail, like many of the experts we talked to. He predicted that 2019 will prove that those with physical retail presences will have a definitive advantage in omnichannel marketing, warehousing, and distribution.
All of these expert predictions about the future of retail technology paint the picture for an exciting new retail landscape. From frictionless buying journeys to mountains of consumer data for better personalization, the future of retail looks exciting for consumers and challenging (but not impossible) for retailers.
We look forward to seeing which predictions take hold in-store and online in the coming years.