Technology has revolutionised the way we shop, whether this is online, or in person. From proposed drone delivery of items ordered online, to interactive “self check-in” at airports, technology is playing a much more fundamental role in managing the interface between shopper and seller.
This is reducing the level of human attention that shoppers need to complete the shopping experience. Within the next 10 years we can only expect a surge in similar technologies, which aim to replace the part that people play in the shopping supply chain, from the point of first contact with the consumer, to the delivery of the items to the front doorstep of the buyer.
As we discuss in the article, these technologies create better communication with shoppers, offering a much more personal service to individual shoppers, with the result that technology creates many, many more opportunities to sell products to consumers.
The concept of interactivity began to change the shopping experience as early as the noughties, when touch screens started to be used more widely. More than a decade later, and touch screen technology had become much more sophisticated and reliable, and as such more saleable, consequently being introduced in most new phones and computers. These changes swiftly entered the dynamics of communication between shopper and seller, changing the process of shopping forever.
Specsavers, for example, has a somewhat iconic interactivity experience, where a picture of the user’s face can be used to “try on” glasses with no need for a user to set foot in a glasses shop! The concept has also been applied to clothes shopping, with shoppers using technology like Adidas CyberFit to try on clothes without needing to remove their own clothes.
Topshop and Timberland have gone a step further and created a whole “virtual fitting room” experience where shoppers see an image of themselves projected onto a large screen, and they then can try on clothing without having to search for sizes and different colours within the actual shop. As such, shoppers are being offered a much more personal service and this reduces the incidence of sales that are lost due to shoppers not being able to find sizes and colours to suit their preferences.
Interactivity has also changed the grocery shopping experience, with shoppers being able to check out their own groceries without the need to interact with a human at all.
Similar interactivity systems allow people to check-in for their flights without the need to be processed by a person at every stage of the process.
Robotics, virtual assistants, and augmented reality in retail
Retailers are using augmented reality to enhance the experience of buying and, this is, in turn, creating more opportunities to sell.
Take the augmented reality “magic mirror” that makeup retailer Charlotte Tilbury has developed recently. Shoppers go into their store and take a seat in front of the “magic mirror”, which then scans their face and “applies” makeup products virtually, with several products being combined to create several “looks”. The shopper then sees several suggested “looks” displayed on the screen and they can quickly and easily purchase their preferred products.
This removes a lot of the barriers that exist due to the nature of makeup selling – one being that makeup is messy and time-consuming to “try on”, and customers might be reluctant to try more than one product because they may already have makeup on.
Assistance with “trying on” has been taken a step further by some retailers including Nike and Adidas, who offer tools on their websites so that shoppers can create their own bespoke product, from scratch.
Other retailers are using simulated robotic “assistants” which appear on screen to deliver information to consumers and offer them tips, directions and answers to frequently asked questions.
Slower to develop, but delivering a massive impact on the experience of shopping has been the rise of robotics in retail. The US multi-national electronics giant Best Buy has set pulses racing in the world of robotics, in 2017, with its introduction of its robotic customer service assistant, nicknamed Chloe in its Manhatten outlet. In a similar vein, robots can now be seen taking orders from diners the world over and online retail giant, Amazon has over 45000 robots
working in their warehouses. Fujitsu has developed a robot, which travels up and down their shop aisles scanning products to gather information on how much restocking is required. With the operational boost for retailers, consumers benefit from a quicker delivery from a more efficient supply chain.
Although the full extent of robotics within the shopping experience as a whole remains to be fully realised, it is clear that robots will gain a surer foothold in shopper/seller interaction and communications in years to come. Analysts predict that robots will continue to assist retailers in areas like warehousing and restocking, but the ambit for robotics to impact processes of direct communication between shopper and seller is becoming wider with every passing year, as more intelligent robots are able to perform a wider range of tasks.
The proliferation of automated assistants like Alexa and Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri is also having a noticeable impact on the shopping experience. Users can ask Siri to browse the internet and find products and services available within the local area, or available based on the preferences identified by the user. Some of Siri’s powers far exceed those of the average human and as a result, Siri can offer shoppers guidance on best price and gather comparative information like reviews and recommendations, within seconds.
3-D printing technology
3-D printers have revolutionised the shopping experience, with customers now able to order their preferred products from the point of creation, as opposed to a selection from a range of generic products that have already been developed and made. Again, this is a development that tailors the shopping experience to the shoppers’ exact preferences, increasing the chance of successful sales.
Chatbots are becoming more widely used by retailers to engage with customers and ensure they stay for longer on websites. Chatbots engage with visitors using instant messaging, and can be programmed to approach visitors to the site in real-time as they are actually browsing on the website.
Automated chatbots can perform basic functions like checking stock levels and dealing with basic concerns raised by visitors to a chatbot-manned website. Increasingly, retailers have chatbot functionality powered by real people, to ensure that visitor queries are answered quickly and helpfully.
Price aggregators and price monitoring
A whole industry has grown up around offering consumers information on price comparison.
The constant availability of up to the second comparison of available prices for the same, services and products is forcing retailers to look seriously at how they approach pricing strategy. Many retailers are turning to price monitoring software which provides retailers with analysis of how prices are being set by their competitors, and how price advantages can be created through discounts
on shipping and other offers.
The use of drone technology to deliver items purchased online, or in store is a concept that is still under development, but it promises to make a huge impact on the shopping experience when the technology reaches a stage where it can operate, safely and legally.
Amazon has invested heavily in the development of drone technology with its Prime Air system, and while there continue to be developmental bugs and challenges in the development of a functioning drone delivery system, many experts believe that the widespread use of drones to deliver goods is just a few years away.
Wing, a drone delivery startup
has recently announced it will begin a trial drone delivery service in Finland in 2018, and a remote town in northern Canada has become one of the first places in the world to be serviced by drone delivery.
Technology has had a massive impact on the ways we shop, and there is
more to come
It is clear that technology is becoming more central to the shopping experience, as retailers continue to invest heavily in technology that can assist with their operations as well as their potential to sell directly to consumers. This is happening within both online sales and physical selling spheres.
Robots are being used to monitor stock levels, and assist with restocking and stock monitoring, but machines are increasingly being used in “front of shop” roles where they make more direct contact with shoppers, as opposed to human staff. This is creating many more sales opportunities for retailers as shoppers are being engaged like never before by products that are being personalised to improve the shopper’s experience and increase how enticing the products
actually are for the shoppers concerned.
The power of machines is being harnessed across several industries including robotics, augmented reality, interactivity, 3D printing technology, drone technology and price aggregation, and the next 10 years is likely to see increases in how sellers rely on technology to help them sell directly to consumers.