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Technology: the key to online and real world shopping

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BRC retail figures show that spending in retail is still pretty healthy, but much of it is, of course, being driven by technology. The easier it gets for shoppers to shop online the more they are likely to do it.

Mobile plays a key role here as it adds that level of convenience and the all-important level of engagement that is driving the ecommerce boom.

But no one is home and dry. With Brexit looming the economy is in something of a phoney war, the calm before the storm, and retailers need to keep up the pace of innovation in technology online to be ready to weather the gathering storm.

As outlined in our story this week, we see that mobile-first is now becoming imperative and retailers need to analyse in real detail what traffic is coming from where and to what device and to rethink how they design sites and, more importantly, what experiences work to drive sales online.

One thing that is likely to have a huge impact on this is Rich Communications Services (RCS). One of the key technologies on show at last week’s Mobile World Congress was this next generation of text messaging. SMS has been with us for 30 years and has never really advanced. OTT messaging services such as iMessage and WhatsApp have raised the game of what can be done with messaging, but they are closed user groups. It is about time that SMS – which anyone can receive and use – got a make over.

And RCS is that make over. It will see message be able to carry all sorts of graphics and links and content without having to change handsets or run special apps.

Already the likes of Walgreens-Boots, Virgin Trains, many US airlines and most network operators are trialling RCS services to make interaction with consumers more slick, more fun, more engaging and more useful. It will be this year that we start to see this.

It may be a simple thing, but making messaging work better for consumers is a simple way to improve engagement and continue the drive to keep sales coming through ecommerce.

But that is the technology of today. Perhaps more importantly, retailers need to be looking beyond that and towards the next generation of technology to keep ecommerce rolling along. According to Patrick Munden, Global Head of Retail and Marketing, Salmon, the move needs to be made towards ‘zero UI’: away from physical interactions in favour of sound, movement and other senses – artificial intelligence, virtual reality shopping and the IoT.

These things may seem to be the preserve of geek-tech shows on the West Coast, but Munden has a point: this tech is available and it is going to be how consumers want to interact with brands and retailers and it is coming down the pipe. While things are good – for now – it is time to invest in these things.

And ironically, all this tech development and advancement is not only going to push forward ecommerce, but it is also what will save the High Street too.

While many in the industry see the High Street dying on the vine as ecommerce takes off should take note of a recent US survey that finds that, in the consumer’s mind, they still want to go to shops: they just want them to be more engaging.

The study finds that many shoppers see real world stores as part of the overall shopping process, with ‘reverse showrooming’ – where you check stuff out online then go and look at it, try it on and buy it in store – as being on the rise.

The key to making the High Street part of overall retail growth story is to make stores more interactive, offer way more online access and experience in store and to better tie together the store experience and that which shoppers are used to online.

High street stores are not warehouses for online, they have a role to play – and technology holds the key.

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