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GUEST COMMENT Three trends from CES that will shape retail

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Every January in Las Vegas, leading brands and innovators in the consumer technology industry gather for CES, the world’s largest technology show. CES offers consumers and businesses a first glimpse of the technology that will shape our lives, homes and even our high streets in 2014. Over the last decade emerging technology has increasingly encroached on the traditional retail journey; from the addition of mobile shopping channels and social shopping discovery sites to multichannel customer service and crowd-funded product launch finance.

Caught in the rip tide of technological change is the retail sector and while we’ve seen businesses such as Blockbuster flounder, those retail heavyweights still afloat have been quick to embrace new technology. Clearly it’s impossible to invest in every new platform on the market, however it’s vital that retailers take a keen interest in the technology sector, so that when a potentially business changing technology begins to gather buzz it’s already firmly on their radar. With that in mind, below are a few of the consumer technology trends that caused a stir at this year’s show and how they might impact the retail sector in the year ahead:

3D printing

In 2014 the patent on 3D printing will expire, effectively opening up the manufacturing floodgates for 3D printing products. But it is not just manufacturers that need to take notice; 3D printing has the potential to turn the retail world upside down. Today’s consumer 3D printers can fit on a desk top and retail for less than £1,000. Consumers with a little bit of know-how will soon be able to print for themselves almost anything. The challenge for retailers is to understand the impact this could have on business and find ways to capitalize on this revolutionary technology before it is too late. For a chocolatier or a jeweller, this might represent printing custom orders in-store. The days of a simple engraving are soon to be a thing of the past.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

Internet of Things refers to the increasing interconnectivity between household items, a customer’s digital profiles and the internet. While a smart pair of socks or an internet-connected toothbrush might not be on everybody’s wish list, the broader trend towards the internet of things trend has clear benefits for retailers. First and foremost consumers hooked up to the internet of things will provide unparalleled access to their shopping and lifestyle habits as well as their in store movements. Apple’s indoor positioning system iBeacon is an example of these technologies.

Interpretation of this data will allow retailers to automate offers to the individual and improve store layouts based on emerging shopping patterns. It could also make for smarter stocking decisions, where tracking devices on clothes in store can reveal items across a network of stores that are attracting most interest or where certain sizes are in demand, but out of stock. In a similar vein, item tracking will allow retailers to provide much clearer information to customers on delivery of their purchases, from texts when the item leaves the depot to offering real time delivery tracking. If you need evidence that IoT is about to explode, look no further than Google’s $3 billion acquisition of Nest, the maker of smart home appliances and an early pioneer of IoT products.

Wearable technology

Taking centre stage at CES and feeding directly into the Internet of Things is the emergence of wearable technology. From smart watches to activity tracking fitness bands, wearable technology is beginning to make the leap from geeky gadget to consumer must-have. Innovations in the field of smart glasses, such as Google Glass and Innovega’s smart contact lenses, which were unveiled at CES, offer interesting new ways for retailers to provide relevant information to consumers. Imagine for example entering a furniture store and being able to use smart glasses to see a prospective sofa in your virtual sitting room, or looking at an item of clothing and being served other items in store that could complete the outfit. Wearable technology is also a virtual goldmine for on location marketing, providing retailers with the opportunity to market to shoppers in real time, from offering a free coffee to passing shoppers that drop in store to 10% off their second in store purchase.

The innovations and trends highlighted above won’t transform retail overnight, but as the technology itself has already arrived there is no doubt that more change is coming to the retail sector. Reacting immediately to emerging technology is by no means essential or even prudent, but it is vital that retailers monitor these advances carefully and consider how they might shape their own business in the years ahead.

Shingo Murakami is MD at Rakuten’s

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