3 Key Tech Trends for the Retail Industry in 2021

Retail is undoubtedly one of the most complicated and dynamic industries. Being a business owner in this industry means taking into account such aspects as manufacturing procedures, inventory and staff management, logistics, advertising and marketing campaigns, customer experience, etc. 

No wonder retail is one of the leaders in technology implementation. Retail companies are not only talking and forecasting future innovations - they are introducing them right now and COVID-19 is accelerating the process. Automation, optimization and digital transformation helps them to pass all the complicated and resource-intensive procedures on to technology and focus on what matters the most - the customer experience.

Fingers Media team is here to share with you our custom software development experience and tech insights and trends for the retail industry. These key trends are conditionally divided into 3, but they certainly and inevitably overlap. 

 

1. Data analytics, AI and machine learning

This is a trend you can’t ignore in 2021 if you still wanna stay competitive. Data analytics, AI, machine learning and deep learning are usually incorporated with each other, when it comes to big data processing, behaviour and demand forecasting, augmented data management, personal recommendations and assistance, etc. This trend can be applied to a huge number of processes in retail, any you can think of:

  • Demand forecasting (for better understanding of customer preferences and interests and introduction of personalized offers and loyalty programs).

  • Customer behaviour and journey analytics (for interaction and service improvement).

  • Purchase dynamics and inventory reporting (for better inventory management and prevention of overstocking).

  • Optimization of supplier relationship management (for better deals and reduction of expenses).

  • Optimization of manufacturing and logistics processes (for reduction of warehouse and logistics expenses, lower negative environmental impact and more sustainable production).

  • Advertising and marketing campaigns management (for bigger sales volume, better reputation and competitiveness).

As the simplest example, DS and ML-powered engines can make personal recommendations to customers before they even know what they want themselves. According to Amazon, 35% of its sales are driven by its recommendation engine.

 

 

In-store options are catching up to online ones. Fashion AI, a technology built by Alibaba Group, generates personalized mix-and-match apparel recommendations for customers as they move around stores. They can then easily find items that will fit their tastes, which leads to upselling.

 

Image from alibabacloud.com

 

Another popular and well-known example of this trend is AI voice assistant. The smart audio study showed that 60 million people now have at least one smart speaker system at home and use Alexa, Siri, Google Home Assistant or other similar voice assistant.  Such technology can be integrated into eCommerce platforms or even IoT products. For instance, Walmart created the Walmart Voice Ordering service. Everything you need to do is to say: “Hey Siri/Google, add ... to Walmart,” and add products to the cart by naming them. However, the greatest thing to integrate the voice assistant with is a smart mirror, the future of IoT products. Smart mirrors can be incorporated with eCommerce platforms, educational tools, personal training software, you name it! (more examples of its use below)

Personalized experience and flawless customer service can be achieved by the use of NLP-driven chatbots. Even outside the retail sphere, chatbots are expected to be the biggest word in customer service, offering deals and recommendations, providing easy navigation, and tracking orders.

 

Chatbot for VIP clients of a fashion giant by Fingers Media 

 

2. Augmented shopping

The isolation due to the pandemic has increased demand for more convenient online shopping experience. Driven by the ‘try before you buy’ approach, customers are attracted by ‘home try-on’ programs, prime wardrobe, mild return policies and AR. 

MAC Cosmetics has installed virtual try-on mirrors at 120 stores and is investing in technology that allows their customers to try on makeup online. Jewelry brand Kendra Scott adapted to the temporary closure of its 108 stores by allowing shoppers to try on earrings using their iPhone browsers. And Zeekit, which supplies AR technology to brands such as Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger, is ready to launch the world’s largest virtual fitting room, with hundreds of thousands of items. Customers who try a product online are nearly 3 times as likely to buy the item.

 

Image from zeekit.me

 

And moreover, AR is already used for more precise purchase of furniture and decor. Online marketplace Etsy has an AR feature on its app that shows customers how paintings, photographs and other decor would look on their walls. IKEA Place and Amazon View in Your Room are the entire developed AR services that let customers try true-to-scale models of furniture

Such ARkits may exist not only as separate services but also as an integrated into device technology like Apple LiDAR Scanner in iPad Pro, calling it ‘the world’s best device for augmented reality’. As it’s said on the Apple website, ‘New depth frameworks in iPadOS combine depth points measured by the LiDAR Scanner, data from both cameras and motion sensors, and is enhanced by computer vision algorithms on the A12Z Bionic for a more detailed understanding of a scene’.

 

Image from apple.com

 

AR technology is becoming more and more precise, allowing shoppers to place virtual items on the physical surfaces with millimetric precision, overlap virtual objects with real ones, recognize physical objects, and provide realistic interactions.

Already mentioned before smart mirrors is a perfect product for implementation of such technology as AR and are a great fit for both stores and homes. Good example of such collaboration of a retail company and technology is the purchase of a home fitness start up Mirror by activewear brand  Lululemon. Sounds like a smart strategy for product upselling, new advertising channel and brand community expansion.

 

Image from lululemon.com

 

3. Staff-free and till-less stores

This is a trend that’s already being widely introduced by such chains as Walmart, Amazon, Tesco, Lidl, etc. First self-checkouts have been here since the early 2000’s and first successful robot trials have been happening since 2010’s. Main tools that allow this digital transformation are RFID tags, IoT devices, machine learning, computer vision, and facial recognition. 

The example of a till-less store system powered by sensors, computer vision and deep learning,  Amazon Just Walk Out was already launched in 26 stores in the US and one in the UK. Customers enter the store using a credit card (no need for a special app or account), products taken are detected and put in a virtual cart. After having finished shopping, they just walk out and their credit card is automatically charged for the items in their virtual cart.

Touch-free stores are even one step further. By using smart screens and scanning barcodes and QR codes, customers can receive info about desired products and interact with stores on a different level. The Shenzhen Burberry store uses WeChat to link together online and offline and reward customers for engaging with the brand. Customers can do things like book in-store appointments and items to try on, contact customer service, learn about new products and exclusive content, and share their own content. The store combines Burberry’s recent tech experiments, like gaming, social media product drops and app-driven customer service. 

 

Image from burberryplc.com

 

Another great example of a digital interaction with store products is Nike Digital Retail. It provides digitally-powered in-store personalized experiences and combines retail store, eCommerce and mobile customer journeys. The solution consists of 3 prototypes: 

- a media wall (displays campaigns, products and related social media content and allows to push it to customers smartphones and leave a mark by taking a selfie), 

- a kiosk (customers can find, customize and order their favorite Nike team products, this helps to broaden the available assortment), 

- a bootroom (an 65'' interactive surface with multi-touch lets customers compare Nike products’ size and color availability, league statistics and other shoe data).

 

Image from demodern.com

 

Another trend, dark stores, is called the future of post-pandemic as people already experienced delivery, goods collection and e-commerce and are likely to adopt at least some of those habits into their everyday lives. It allows retailers to focus on the most important things - product quality and customer experience, and is represented by local fulfillment centers instead of traditional stores. Dark stores are extremely cost-effective, as retailers don’t have to spend a lot of money on store maintenance and checkouts, and time-saving, as all staff is mostly focused on order creation and delivery, which takes not more than 30 mins.

 

 

And last but not least, robotics. This is probably the most tested and trialed field in the retail industry for the past few years. It was greatly speeded up by the pandemic and led to introduction of robots for the following purposes:

As you can see, possibilities are endless and the part of work you are ready to delegate to robots is up to you!

 

Image from softbankrobotics.com

 

Final words

It goes without saying that there will be more tech-equipped stores and technology will definitely spread and simplify customers’ and store employees’ lives. The world is going towards automation, cost-effectiveness and time-saving and retail transformation is here to stay. 

However, there is a huge number of people who would prefer communication with people and will not trust machines their whole shopping experience and access to personal data. Only the future will show whether this tech utopia is becoming our reality and how ready we are to accept it. 

So if you are eager to speak about tech and its future, have an innovative idea that will make people’s lives more convenient or just need a free quote, Fingers Media team is here for you!

 

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