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The Surprising Future of Retail Technology

While shopping online is in many cases more convenient, it is a sterile, fact-based transaction. That creates a prime opportunity for retailers to give the traditional visit to the store a makeover. And new technology makes that entirely possible.

Driving retail’s purpose

Patrick Neff, who’s responsible for customer experience and the operations of technology strategy and experience at AT&T’s Entertainment Group, sees technology as the gateway to strengthening these relationships.

“I’m very excited about the future of technology and retail, because I already see how many retailers are expanding their reach to customers through the Omni-channel experience,” he says. “But it’s the evolution of that experience and how it ties to the purpose of retail that excites me most.” 

Modern brand affinity

Customers are more closely connected to their favorite brands than ever before, thanks to the innovative use of in-store technology capabilities like Interactive digital signage, AR and the evolving use of social media in which retailers have a vast platform to entertain, educate and provide customized offerings to customers. The race to innovate and provide retailers technology-based solutions that will allow them to ultimately connect with their communities in a personal way is a contest in which both retailers and customers win. 

By now most retailers understand that pushing out one-size-fits-all promotions is no longer an effective way to communicate with customers. Customers want offers that are tailored to their needs. That’s why one of the most potent strategies today is to employ the historic data that retailers already have in-house to anticipate customer needs. Personally-tailored communications are key to customer engagement.

Josh Goodwin, a digital Media specialist for Eileen Fisher firmly believes that analytics will play a significant role in refining that communication. “When it comes to the future of digital displays and their relationship to the customer,” he explains, “what was once a passive association has now become an interactive experience.

“Software designed to communicate with the shopper now collects data unique to the buyer and then distributes content accordingly. Coupons, incentives and loyalty programs increase ROI’s and serve the client as well.”

An authentic relationship

The direction of technology, as it relates to retail, will be focused more on advancing the relationship between the retailer and the customer. It will be seamless and fluid. Analytics will play a significant role in this. Past purchases will determine future incentives. Digital displays will have their part in this relationship as well. Connections will be established between the display and the consumers’ smartphone, making deployment of in store sales seamless.

It’s this river of data and how it’s shared between the retailer and the shopper that will drive the future of retail technology.

Others go further, and insist that for brick-and-mortar locations to survive and remain competitive with online merchants, retailers need not only to adopt an omni-channel strategy. They also need to significantly transform their business models, the processes that support them and the way they think about their business.

For example, Adrian Weidmann, StoreStream Metrics’s managing director, contends that, “The survival of ‘brick-n-mortar’ retail will be determined by transforming existing processes and business models that are supported by technologies that will meet the expectations of the digitally empowered shopper and their unique shopping journey.”

Flawless consignment

Retail is a consignment business, and the future of retail will be implementing technologies and processes that will allow the brand to have complete transparency and management of a 100-percent accurate consignment business, from inventory all the way through frictionless sales transactions. AmazonGo, Macy’s and select efforts at Walmart are actively experimenting with these processes.

By acknowledging that retail is, in fact, a consignment business, currently available technologies can be implemented to facilitate a truly automated, transparent frictionless business operation. These technologies, along with the operational efficiencies they empower, will allow retailers to place the total responsibility of inventory management, replenishment and recognition of sales to the brand vendors. This alone will drop what is typically a 3 percent administrative cost-of-sale from the existing equation.

Meeting the expectations of these digitally empowered shoppers requires delivering an experience designed to culminate with a physical store visit and on-premise purchase.

To do that, retailers have begun to imbue the on-premise visit with sensory dimension that expands and strengthens the retailer-customer relationship. L’Occitane’s new store at 5th Avenue and 22nd Street in New York City does exactly that. Paul Blackburn, associate vice president of design and construction for L’Occitane en Provence, led the project that took the opportunity to give customers what they need to browse and choose products in a way that eliminates friction points that could discourage engagement.

L’Occitane adapted its e-commerce site to create a Beauty Fitting Room as part of its latest Flagship debut in New York City. Enabled by an intelligent table, guests can browse and choose from a range of products, while never having to leave their seat. A guest’s wish list is pushed to a Beauty Concierge’s iPad, for a testing experience delivered in real time. E-com made simple makes S-com the new retail reality.

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