Rupal Shah, Director of Shopper Research at Simpson Carpenter, looks at five key retail technology trends that will help to make the shopper journey more seamless and convenient than ever.
With the current level of competition in the UK retail sector and the plethora of choice available to shoppers, the challenge of winning and retaining shopper loyalty is tougher than ever. The growing number of on-demand services available means that consumers are increasingly drawn to brands that offer ultra-convenient experiences and help to take the friction out of everyday life.
Thankfully, new technologies are reaching maturity that will enable retailers to build levels of convenience into the shopper journey that many once thought unimaginable. In the coming year these technologies should be front of mind for retailers if they want to build closer and more enduring relationships with today’s fickle and time-poor shoppers.
Personalisation is one of the great buzzwords in the retail industry right now as brands seek to build more relevant and seamless experiences for customers. Big data has been a key catalyst in allowing the customisation of retail experiences, but new methods involving DNA sequencing are now emerging as the next great leap.
Waitrose recently announced the launch of a clinical trial, in partnership with UK start-up DnaNudge, which uses shoppers’ DNA to help them make healthier food and drink choices. The consumers involved in the trial – the first of its kind in the retail sector – insert a swab of their saliva into a simple cartridge which analyses their DNA to determine whether they are prone to a range of conditions, such as diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure. An app then offers personalised recommendations as they shop.
Cosmetics is another area of retail where DNA-testing is expected to become increasingly widespread. British skincare brand, Geneu, already offers a same-day DNA testing service as part of its Personalised Serums package at luxury retailer, Selfridges. With the DNA-testing market set to reach over $10bn (£7.84bn) by 2022, more brands will likely be looking to launch their own DNA-based products this year.
Voice technology is often touted as the next big thing in retail and ecommerce. In 2019, these predictions will increasingly come to fruition. However, retailers will start to discover many more uses for voice devices beyond offering customers a convenient channel for purchasing products.
The creative possibilities for service innovation through the technology are almost endless. For example, a retailer could use voice tech to help customers navigate large stores and find the products they need, essentially helping to fill the role of a store assistant. Alexa Shop Assistant is capable of doing exactly this, while also answering any product-related questions a shopper may have. Chinese ecommerce giant, Alibaba, has gone even further, opening an unstaffed store in Beijing where its smart voice assistant, ‘Tmall Genie’, handles most customer service-related tasks.
Voice also offers the opportunity for retailers to develop new types of content experiences. Many grocers already publish recipes on their websites as a way to promote their own products. Imagine if retailers used voice technology to allow customers to access these recipes and try them out in a more hands-free way. Cookery channel, Food Network, created its own app called In the Kitchen, which allows people to access over 70,000 recipes from its TV chefs using voice commands.
Thanks to Amazon’s pioneering efforts, checkout free shopping will become a growing reality for consumers in the UK this year. Both Sainsbury’s and Tesco are trialling services that allow customers to scan products in-store using their smart phones and pay for them immediately.
Amazon’s check out free shopping is even more sophisticated. Customers don’t need to scan a product, they simply pick it up and leave, with computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning technology allowing the retailer to automatically recognise when a product has been taken off the shelves. Amazon is rumoured to be planning the launch of its first checkout free stores outside of the US in the West End of London. Could 2019 be the year they finally arrive?
The benefits of cashier-free shopping will also increasingly impact fashion retail as well. In China, retail group, Bestseller, launched smart fashion stores which use facial recognition technology to allow customers to pay for garments automatically using their faces and completing the payment via WeChat Pay.
Tech-enabled checkout sales are expected to soar over the coming years as the technology continues to mature. A report from Juniper Research predicts it will grow from $9bn (£7.06bn) today to $78bn (£61.17bn) by 2022.
In 2019, an increasing number of retailers in the UK and around the world will experiment with robotics and automation to improve the shopper experience.
At one of Ocado’s depots in England, over a thousand robots enhanced with artificial intelligence are able to carefully pick up and pack products at a rate far quicker and more efficiently than humans. Similarly, fashion retailer, Zara, is using in-store robots to automate buy-online-pickup-in-store purchases and offer customers a quick and efficient service.
Automation will increasingly impact the delivery process as well. In October 2018, Starship Technologies launched a fleet of hundreds of smart robots in Milton Keynes which use ultrasound sensors, radar and GPS to help them navigate the town and deliver a range of goods direct to consumers. The firm has already partnered with Co-op to deliver groceries there.
Consultancy, McKinsey & Co, predicts that in less than ten years, 80% of all items will be autonomously delivered.
While robots are making the delivery of shopping quicker and easier, in most cases, customers still need to be at their property to receive and unpack the goods. This could be about to change though if a new service that Waitrose is testing becomes more widely available. Called ‘While You’re Away’, the service allows customers with a smart lock on their front door to set a temporary access code and allow delivery drivers to enter their property and put their groceries away for them. Once the delivery is complete and the driver has left, the code immediately expires.
While Walmart has been offering unattended deliveries to customers since 2017, the Waitrose trial represents the first time it has come to the UK. The service is currently available to 100 customers living within the delivery area of Waitrose’s fulfilment centre in Coulsdon, London. If successful, the retailer plans to expand it to over 1,000 shoppers in the Spring.
These emerging technologies represent a huge opportunity for retailers, but, taking advantage of them has to be about more than just jumping on a bandwagon. In such a disruptive market, retailers need to have a deep understanding of their customers and how they can continuously meet their needs. Convenience, along with other issues like health, personalisation and the environment are now pivotal for today’s shoppers. If used properly, new technologies can help retailers tap into these issues and build brand loyalty like never before.