The retail industry experienced a rollercoaster of changes through 2017. So what does 2018 have in store? Here we ask some of the experts.
This time its personal
Every innovation in 2018 will fundamentally be driven by the desire to balance personalisation and exceptional customer experience and process efficiency to benefit both consumers, retailers and all those in supply and logistics chain. One thing that will never go out of style is the fact that shoppers loyalty is the lifeblood of retail and the race to capture loyalty will drive an exciting period of innovation in 2018.
Retailers will race to become even more intelligent and creative about how they use data to offer a total understanding of the customer universe. They’ll be aggregating customer interests, buying trends and profile information to offer the right product, to the right person, at the right time and at the right price in a bid to deliver an interactive experience that beats their rivals and delights their customers.
"Beware, though, that what initially delights the customer quickly becomes their basic expectation, " warns Matthew Robertson, Co-CEO, NetDespatch . "Continuous improvement and innovation is the keynote of this industry and retailers will need to keep building their capability to avoid falling behind customer expectations that continue to grow ever higher."
Customers aren't in silos – so un-silo your data
Shoppers don't view various channels as separate entities. To them, it's a single, homogenous brand experience-and retailers must restructure their business to share consumers' vision, says Meyar Sheik, CEO and Co-founder, Certona
. Connecting previously siloed channels to ensure frictionless customer shopping journey across all channels should become a key business priority for retailers, otherwise, they will be left behind. In order to remain relevant, customer data must be shared across all segments of the business, moving away from the traditional notion of departments as disparate sectors.
Bringing data together from all aspects of the business-marketing, e-commerce, customer service, in-store, email, social media and et cetera-
retailers can create comprehensive profiles of shoppers. In fact, 38% of buyers would like retailers to use the information to make the whole shopping experience more personalised and seamless
with automated delivery options and a record of preferred payment methods.
Drive traffic and create more meaningful experiences in physical stores
Sustaining in-store footfall has been an ongoing challenge, with every new year bringing predictions of the demise of bricks-and-mortar. Retailers must adapt by re-purposing and re-positioning the physical store within the retail ecosystem, says Sheik.
Next year we’ll see the emergence of new kinds of physical store, which creatively integrate the digital and the physical. AR and VR, mobile scanning and payments, greater adoption of clicks-to-bricks, and proximity marketing are just a selection of the tools we can expect retailers to trial. Retailers also need to better leverage in-store data to personalise digital experiences after purchase. This will enhance personalisation across the customer journey and create more seamless, meaningful experiences overall.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will enhance the shopper journey
Back in 2016 Gartner
predicted that by 2020 85% of customer interactions would be managed without human intervention. 2018 will be the year that retailers really start to leverage the convenience and 24/7 availability of artificial intelligence fronted by chatbots for managing customer service queries and making intelligent purchase recommendations. This will give rise to a new trend coined by industry experts – 'A-commerce' – that will see shoppers capitalising on the ease, speed and convenience that chatbots and assistants provide, by outsourcing their shopping needs to a virtual companion, says NetDispatch's Robertson. In response, a growing number of retailers will adopt AI technologies and automated platforms that can connect, deliver and adapt the omnichannel experience for each shopper in real time. This includes gathering and analysing banks of data, determining patterns and predicting future intent. Retailers will increasingly move beyond basic personalisation and customisation and instead use solutions that combine real-time shopper profiling — from sources such as contextual data, behavioural profiling, purchasing history, and social— with in-the-moment updates to provide the most relevant recommendations based on a specific shopper’s current session. Thanks to AI, we’ll see retailers be able to not only replicate but surpass the traditional in-store ‘personal shopper’ experience online and at scale. Those retailers using AI to its best effect will be able to influence purchases in-the-moment, even anticipating and pre-empting purchases and nudging the shopper towards the right products in a natural and highly personalised manner.
Augmented reality (AR) applications will begin to proliferate
E-tailers will continue to trespass on the comfort zones of shoppers' by developing more ways for customers to get a 'hands-on' feeling that only a bricks and mortar store provides. Shoppers will be able to scan their faces and figures into dynamic augmented reality app and then virtually try on clothes and makeup. This will, in turn, speed up customers' purchasing decision, with 33% shoppers recently reported that they would buy a high-ticket item
if they could use augmented reality to visualise it at home.Dynamic augmented reality applications,
such as BMW’s iVisualizer app, will begin to proliferate. These apps demonstrate products interactively – in BMW’s case turning any space into a virtual car showroom – allowing customers to build their own bespoke products, walk around them and see how they’ll look and perform prior to purchase. This will assist customer decision-making and enhance the virtual shopping experience.
And while we’re on the topic of apps, with e-commerce expected to increase to nearly 50% of the total eCommerce market in the next five years, retailers who haven’t already launched their own applications that deliver a seamless buying and delivery experience run the risk of being left behind.
The rise of conversational commerce
ComScore has predicted that by 2020, 50% of all searches
will be by voice. If this is to become a reality, next year will see retailers ramping up R&D in this area in a bid to get ahead of the competition.
Amazon currently holds the share
of the personal assistant market, which it will no doubt capitalise on to increase sales in other areas of its business. Other retailers must follow in Amazon’s footsteps, and develop their own features and experiences which harness this technology to engage and suggest products or content to shoppers.
Retailers will also invest in voice recognition technology for customer service, integrating features like chatbots into their digital channels. This will give rise to a new trend coined by industry experts – A-commerce – that will see shoppers capitalising on the ease, speed and convenience that chatbots and assistants provide, by outsourcing their shopping needs to a virtual companion. The easier it is to buy, the more both retailer and shopper benefit as 2018 heralds a new age of retail.