Technology will continue to be one of the biggest disrupting forces in the retail sector in 2017, with innovations such as Chat Bots and virtual reality finally breaking through. In 2016, we saw the time it takes to go from breakthrough technology to mass market application reducing as technology disruptors reshaped big business practice, and this breakneck pace doesn’t show signs of abating as we enter a new year.
Gideon Hyde, co-founder of Market Gravity, the proposition design consultancy, shares his predictions for 2017 and advises what retailers should be doing to recognise ‘tomorrow’s business’ and ensure they enhance their offerings to stand out in this increasingly competitive marketplace.
With the growing popularity of the new megatrend known as ‘frictionless retail’, wallets, checkouts and queues could be set to be things of the past. Actually, frictionless retail has been on the cards since around 2005, when Apple introduced a mobile POS system across its US stores which allowed staff to roam the shop floor taking payments in order to make the customers’ shopping experience quicker and less painless. However, it now seems to be one of retail’s biggest buzz phrases with retailers looking for more and more ways to eliminate friction. One of the latest innovations doing just that is the Amazon Dash button, which makes re-ordering possible with the simple push of a button.
Satisfying the rising demand for contactless payments and digital wallets such as Apple Pay, will continue to enable retailers to increase sales, improve the customer journey and build brand loyalty. These are the things that establish them as a ‘retailer of choice’ and keep customers coming back.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT), also known as ‘connected devices’ or ‘smart devices’ has seen new products and services being launched and developed at a fast pace in the past couple of years. The continued development of connected devices, wearable tech and enhanced connectivity means the IoT is progressing into every part of our lives. Indeed, these new, connected technologies are most definitely changing the way we shop. To take advantage of these developments and create new growth opportunities, retailers need be open to changing their traditional systems, procedures, processes and ways of communicating. They must embrace technology to maintain a competitive edge, enhance customer experiences and drive business growth.
Chat Bots – the rise of the chat interface
More and more companies are using chat bots to hold automated conversations with potential customers to help them make decisions that eventually lead to sales or bookings. The advantages to retailers considering using them are that they are less expensive to produce than apps, they help raise brand awareness and they can save human resourcing costs, effectively replacing the work of customer service agents and personal assistants. The prospect of bots actually replacing human jobs is still a way off, however. Retailers should look at augmentation rather than replacement. Bots can help make employees’ lives easier by taking away some of the strain but, when enquiries become more complicated, customers will still require the help of a human being.
VR and AR
Immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) offer retailers the chance to completely change how their customers shop. VR and AR have huge potential to control a flow of information to the consumer, integrated across mobile, wearable technology and IoT etc. allowing rooms and spaces to connect with consumers, virtual worlds and conversations. Customers can see how their new sofa will look in their lounge without even visiting a store; perhaps they can try on a suit without leaving the comfort of their own armchair. VR and AR is possibly one of the most exciting areas to be working in for retail brands right now.
Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen cites Blockchain as “one of the most fundamental inventions in the history of computer science”. Put ‘simply’, Blockchain uses complex cryptography to ensure that financial transactions can be verified and can’t be tampered with, with minimal third party involvement.
Bitcoin is the best known application of Blockchain so far, but its potential extends far beyond digital currencies. The Blockchain process makes error and fraud easier to spot and it can remove the need for a middleman, thereby reducing costs. Indeed, experts say it is set to disrupt industries such as retail, where transactions and trust are key.
Gideon is one of the co-founders and a partner of Market Gravity and is passionate about creating growth and innovations businesses across the UK and beyond. He is an expert in helping big businesses launch significant new ventures into the marketplace and take them to scale. He led the programmes to develop and grow npower’s home energy services business, and to design and launch Retiready, Aegon’s digital retirement service.