What’s in store for retail technology in 2018?

Retail has changed a lot over the past decade, in no small part due to the embracing of technology to give retailers a competitive edge over rivals. The in-store experience of today is markedly different to a decade ago.

Even in the last year, there have been some interesting retail technologies emerging onto the scene. 2017 was the real breakthrough year for consumers to begin paying via mobile, according to Guillaume Pousaz, founder & CEO, Checkout.com.

“That includes payments made via services such as Apple or Android Pay as well as mobile wallets. We also saw uptake in users buying via messaging apps, and this in particular will become more mainstream in 2018, especially with the explosion of chatbots for business platforms and Voice APIs such as the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) from Amazon, capable of interacting with users in both the sales and customer service remit,” he says.

Lee Adams, MD of garden furniture retailer Alexander Francis says that automation has been crucial to remain competitive.

“Having orders, inventory, accounts and customer data in a single system is unbelievably helpful and reduces the time it takes for us to make business decisions. We are able to concentrate on growing the business rather than implementing and managing multiple separate systems,” he says.

“Automation technology has simplified our business so I now have the time to concentrate on other areas, like finding new suppliers at lower prices and expanding operations."

Virtual voice assistants and artificial intelligence

Hugh Fletcher, global head of consultancy and innovation at eCommerce consultancy Salmon says the mass market adoption of virtual assistants – notably Amazon Alexa and Google Home, represents the opening of the doors into the home for some of the biggest tech (and retail) innovators in the world.

“And that in turn means their role will become more central to our lives over time as their influence secretly grows,” he says. “It is evidence of the mass market adoption of zero UI – in this case voice, which will see customers become less reliant on screens for their digital and online interactions.”

AI has been progressing steadily over the last few years in various guises. Lee Gill, group vice president of global retail strategy at JDA, says that in the coming years, this will be used to provide planning, control, prediction, and recognition of patterns and trends within data, will also make retailers more effective, repeatable, and informed decisions with assured outcomes. “These concepts make it possible to extract value from data, particularly the massive stream of IoT device information,” he says.

“What’s more, customer data is now the new currency, creating a race to capture all sources of both structured and unstructured data in order to build the most complete profile of the shopper. It will be the expert use of artificial intelligence that shapes the new battleground in retail, with the winners being those who are able to create deep and precise personalised engagements with their customers, driving a new source of incremental revenue and brand loyalty.”

The robots are coming

Personalisation is the battleground for various industries, including retail. However, in many cases, too much choice has diminished the experience of the customer, not enhanced it. Scott Clarke, chief digital officer at Cognizant says we all feel this from time-to-time. “Too many different brands, colours, shapes and materials to choose from can actually be off-putting and stop us from shopping altogether,” he says.

“In the future, retailers will produce bespoke and tailored clothing items in a matter of hours, rather than days or weeks. Consumers will no longer go into a store and buy a small or medium sized jumper. 3D body imaging in-store will allow retailers to retain customers’ measurements and preferences, enabling them to create tailored clothing, quickly en masse.”

Interactive shopping baskets

Supermarkets like Tesco already allow their customers to scan their own food and pack their bags as they go around the aisle – reducing time scanning and packing items at the checkout. But Maarten Bais, VP and general manager EMEA at Elo, reckons there is still more to come.

“I imagine interactive shopping trolleys or supermarket GPS will be next. A small interactive touchscreen display would automatically suggest meals to make as you scan and add items to your trolley,” he says.

“Or you could create a shopping list at home, log in on the device and see your list on screen and cross them off as you go. We also predict shopping trollies will start creating the best possible shopping route around the supermarket to help you save time - just like GPS in your car.