The future of retail is technology and it is here now

Do you think about technology? Probably not I suspect because it is all around us and so ingrained in our everyday lives that it has drifted into the background and we are not conscious of it per se. In its various forms – from smart-Phones and tablets to SAT NAVs – it is ubiquitous.

Consider that Amazon will likely soon be more valuable that Wal-Mart and that Alibaba has just become the world’s biggest retailer – based on market valuations. The rise of these online merchants has been powered by broadband connectivity. The development of 3G and 4G did the same for mobile and m-commerce, and now we are seeing a revolution in cashless payments with Apple Pay playing at the forefront. Next up is the Internet-of-things that is just starting to have an impact on our lives.

It’s clear the future is going in only one direction and that is one that’s led by technology. The big question for retailers is – how do they take part in this tech-led future?

Our new Digital Retail Innovations Report 2014 gives a glimpse into the future that is happening right now. It provides some great examples of retailers working with technology to create future-proofed solutions for their increasingly tech-savvy customers.

We’ve broken the examples down into four categories, with the first taking the perspective of browsing. In this area we found the eBay / PhiSix 3D virtual dressing room solution particularly impressive. Trying on clothes in-store is painful. Only one thing I’ve ever bought online has actually fitted me so this tool is potentially transformational for online fashion retail.

The IKEA augmented reality app is another great example that brings products to life online. It is an easy-to-use solution that gives shoppers control over what they are doing when visualising products digitally. This level of control is not necessarily there when you are in one of IKEA’s stores – they are both fun and a nightmare all rolled into one.

Secondly, there is the perspective of research and here we have the great example of the B&Q ‘Spaces’ virtual room designing solution. It gives customer ease and control over designing rooms that also lets them order the items and arrange delivery. It takes the stress away from buying kitchens and designing them in-store, which can be a bit of a pain – especially with children in tow.

Less futuristic – but equally effective – is the Schuh video call centre solution that takes an out-dated thing like the contact centre and adds a video element, which boosts conversion rates. This engagement with customers is the opposite of the experience we all have when dealing with contact centres located out in India. It delivers a great experience in what is a mundane part of the shopping process.

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Starbucks app

Thirdly, there is the perspective of purchasing. I find the Starbucks pre-ordering app is a great tool that is slick and easy to use. It allows consumers to locate a store, order and pay for a drink, and then collect it. This puts them firmly in control of the total experience.

The final perspective is collection and returns, which is certainly a fertile area as the report features numerous examples of innovative solutions. A particularly exciting one is the Volvo roaming delivery service. It leverages the company’s existing ‘where’s my car’ app to enable goods to be placed in shoppers’ cars using digital keys. This gives consumers full control over the painful process of deliveries.

Another fine example is DPD ‘Follow My Parcel’ that gives the customer full visibility of where their parcels are in the delivery cycle. It’s at the forefront of a revolution in the final mile that is again putting shoppers in control.

Across all these examples it is technology that is the underpinning factor – whether we notice it or not. And the common theme is the utilisation of hardware and software to give control to the customer through the shopping experience.

This tech-driven future should not be seen as a terrifying prospect for retailers. They just need to build powerful apps and tools for people to use. There are clearly as many opportunities as there are challenges and based on what we have seen in the 2014 report we very much look forward to seeing how retailers adopt technology in next year’s edition.

Guy (online only)Guy Chiswick, Managing Director, Webloyalty Northern Europe (@webloyalty_Guy)

About Guy Chiswick

Guy Chiswick is the Managing Director of Northern Europe for Webloyalty. He is interested in retail innovation and discussing the future of retail. You can follow him on Twitter @Webloyalty_Guy