Retail Technology Trends That are Making Waves — and How to Capitalize On Them

Retail Technology Trends That are Making Waves — and How to Capitalize On Them

Forecasting retail technology trends is a difficult task. There’s no shortage of buzzwords in the industry, plus there are numerous tech providers out there claiming that their solution is the next big thing in retail.

So, which technology trends in retail are worth the hype? And how can you determine the right things to pursue in your business?

Answer: rely on data. Pay close attention to the changes in your market, particularly when it comes to buying behavior and preferences. Every market is different and the technologies to adopt will vary depending on your business and your customers.

We took a look at some of the retail technology trends that have been making waves as of late, and put together a list of the top tech trends to keep an eye on — and how to make them work in your business.

1. Solutions that enable “pre store” research
Move over FOMO (fear of missing out). Thanks to COVID-19, consumers are now experiencing FOGO (fear of going out).

People are becoming more cautious, especially when it comes to offline shopping, and many are shifting their purchasing habits to limit their shopping trips. Consumers are increasingly doing “pre-store research” where they look up store and product info online before heading to the shop.

Pre-pandemic, 90% of shoppers said they do a web search for a product before heading in-store. That number has almost certainly gone up in recent months.

What does this mean for you?

For starters, if your store or products aren’t visible on online platforms like Google, you’re missing out foot traffic and sales opportunities. It’s critical that you adopt solutions that put your business in front of shoppers during their “pre store” research stage.

This means when they’re looking up your products online, you want your store to show up in their radar.

One way that you can do this is by integrating your POS or inventory management system with Google Search and Maps.

Solutions like Pointy (acquired by Google in 2020) make this simple. Simply connect Pointy to your point of sale solution, and it will automatically display your real-time inventory online, so your customers can easily see what’s in-store.

We can see this trend in action in the pet store Dingo’s. Their Business Profile on Google lists the products they have in-store, so shoppers can verify their availability before heading out.

2. Retail ecosystems

Running a retail business requires several tools. You have your POS system, ecommerce shopping cart, payment processor, accounting software, ERP, CRM… the list goes on.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a single solution that does all of the above really well, which is why retail ecosystems are so important. By seamlessly connecting your apps with each other, you can keep your retail business running like a well-oiled machine.

The last thing you want is to cobble up different solutions together or do manual entry — such methods lead to inefficient operations and a poor customer experience.

So, do your business a favor and implement retail integrations that keeps data flowing smoothly across your systems.

Make no mistake: as shoppers’ expectations increase and retail journeys become more complex, the need for an open ecosystem will continue grow. See to it that your retail business is prepared by adopting technologies that are easily integrate-able.

3. A-commerce technology

Automated commerce (aka “a-commerce”) is essentially the process of automating the purchasing journey. A-commerce can come in many forms, including:

Automatic purchases

For some retailers, it makes sense to automate the buying decisions of shoppers. Merchants that adopt subscription-based business models are a good example. By automating things like buying consumable goods (razors, toilet paper, etc.) retailers can reduce friction and make their customers’ lives easier.

The most advanced companies are devising ways to use technologies like connected devices and Internet of Things (IoT) to power automated commerce.

As the Retail Council of Canada points out:

In the future, these innovations may also be common in our homes. The smart appliance market—worth an estimated $20 billion—is developing thermostats and appliances capable of learning consumer habits and tailoring their usage accordingly. Smart fridges will be able to detect when food has gone bad, and place online orders for delivery.

Marketing automation

A-commerce can also come in the form of marketing automation. Retailers are becoming smarter with how they collect and use customer information to encourage increased purchases. Best of all? Collecting that information and executing data-backed campaigns can be done automatically.

Customer communications and marketing automation platforms such as Marsello are enabling merchants to come up with tailored offers and communications based on the specific behaviors of their customers.

If a customer hasn’t purchased anything in 6 months, for example, the platform will automatically send them an offer to encourage them to check out the store’s new arrivals. Meanwhile a loyal customer who frequents the retail store will get a different message — perhaps a surprise perk for their loyalty.

Consider the case of OnceWas, a fashion retailer that uses automated email sequences to engage different customer segments, including: first-time customers, window shoppers, and inactive customers.
Marsello automatically segments OnceWas’ customer base and engages each customer group with a campaign designed around their shopping behaviors. This ensures that customers receive messages that are relevant to their needs, which ultimately increases the likelihood of conversion.

Process automation
A-commerce can also apply to backend processes in your business. Consider the following retail automations:

  • automatic prompts for cashiers to record serial numbers when customers purchase items such as electronics;
  • ID verification when customers buy age restricted items, such as liquor;
  • updating your online and offline stock levels when someone makes a purchase on either channel;
  • automating your re-ordering process for low stock;
  • …and more.

Implementing a-commerce to your processes and operations starts with adopting a retail platform that supports automation. Once again, using a solution that easily integrates with other apps is key. Much of a-commerce hinges on different apps “talking” to each other, so make sure your system allows this.

4. Platforms that focus on virtual customer engagement

When the pandemic hit, Microsoft Teams experienced a 500+% growth in calls and conference in China between January and March 2020.

That tells us as while people are going out less, their need for human interaction is stronger than ever. This behavior has tremendous implications on how businesses should facilitate customer interactions and communications.

Retailers can stay competitive by finding ways to connect with customers virtually. Doing that can mean different things, depending on your brand. For some retailers, one-on-one consultations work best. Others thrive on community events like classes or workshops.

Turn to your customer base to figure out the right approach. From there, it’s a matter of sorting out the tech side of things. You’ll need to adopt a reliable communication platform that allows you to hold events or sessions remotely.

Sometimes, that can be as simple as hopping on Instagram live. But if you want more interaction or if your needs are complex (i.e., guest registration, ticket sales, webinar moderation, etc.) then adopting a ticketing system like Eventbrite and webinar platform like Zoom would be good to go.

One brand that’s succeeding with virtual customer engagement is Bluemercury, a cosmetics company that was acquired by Macy’s in 2015.

In response to the pandemic, Bluemercury quickly shifted its consultation methods to adopt remote technology.

As Marla Beck Bluemercury’s co-founder and chief executive explained to the Wall Street Journal:

The other interesting thing this time is the use of technology to consult with clients. We quickly switched to doing virtual consultations with our beauty experts. Our clients have taken us into their bathrooms and asked for advice in ways we’ve never seen before. They take their phones and show us their cosmetic cabinets. They show us the hairdryers they’re using and they ask real advice on how to use what they already have.

That relationship with our clients has become even more intimate than it’s ever been and we’re able to do it virtually.

Another interesting note? Beck thinks that this new customer behavior is here to stay.

“All of our stores are open right now but clients are still asking for virtual consultations. We’ve also been able to do a lot of master classes with our female founders of brands and hit a scale we’ve never seen before,” she told the WSJ.

“It used to be you held master classes and you’d invite local clients to meet an entrepreneur at a Bluemercury store in New York City or Kansas or Washington, D.C. Now we do classes online and get 200 to 400 clients on the call. It’s a new behavior that’s been created and we get scale from it.”

The bottom line? If you’re resisting technology that would allow you to connect with people virtually, you may want to rethink your position. While a good chunk of consumers will go back to offline retail interactions when the lockdowns are over, a segment of customers will likely stick to virtual platforms. You need to ensure that you’re able to serve both groups.

5. Contactless payments

Contactless payments aren’t new; technologies like mobile payments (Apple Pay, Samsung Pay) or tap and go have been around for years. However, the pandemic has rapidly accelerated this trend.

A poll by Mastercard found that nearly half of consumers globally (46%) “have swapped out their top-of-wallet card for one that offers contactless – this proportion climbs to 52 percent among those under 35 years old.” What’s more 82% of respondents believed that contactless payments are a much cleaner way to pay.

Supporting contactless payments like Apple Pay used to be nice to have. But in 2020 and beyond, they’re practically table stakes.

If you haven’t done so yet, upgrade your terminals or payment processing solutions so you can start accepting contactless payments.

And be sure to spread the word. Utilize all your communication channels (i.e., email, social, in-person, etc.) to let customers know about your contactless initiatives. Encourage your customers to use these solutions; they offer an effective way to limit contact, thus keeping your customers and employees safe.

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6. Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has tremendous applications in retail. When used in the right way, AI can help you forecast trends, make smarter decisions, and forge stronger connections with your customers. There are a number of advanced analytics platforms in the market that use AI to surface trends and insights.

Take Google Analytics, which has a feature called Analytics Intelligence. It analyzes your website data and automatically surfaces insights on changes or opportunities. For instance, it can notify you if a specific page is outperforming your other web pages so you can optimize the rest of your website. Analytics Intelligence also uses machine learning for user conversion modeling, so you can view conversion probability, create smart goals, and more.

There’s also Loop Insights, an intelligence platform for multi-store retailers that aggregates online and in-store data across multiple properties so you can get a complete view of your business analytics. Loop offers AI data forecasting and segmentation, enabling you to send personalized promotions to your customers easily.

7. Order management and fulfillment platforms

Speed and flexibility are critical, particularly when it comes to order fulfillment. The retailers that will succeed are the ones who can get products onto shoppers’ hands in the most convenient way possible. This means offering services like same/next day delivery as well as in-store/curbside pickup.

Needless to say, it’s essential to have an inventory management and order fulfillment platform that enables these capabilities.

Your stock control and fulfillment system will look different, based on your current tech stack and processes. Generally speaking, though, it helps to have one tightly-integrated platform for managing your sales, products, and orders across all your sales channels. When you’re selling and fulfilling through different channels, having a single source of truth is key.

How will you leverage technology trends in retail?

There’s no shortage of retail technology trends claiming to be THE one to transform your business. To effectively figure out what to focus on, take an honest look at your operations and initiatives. Get to know your customers and their needs. Think about what’s slowing down your business or what your shortcomings are. Evaluating these things will offer insights into what steps to take going forward.

Also, consider speaking with retail specialists who can advise you on the ways in which you can improve your business.

Good luck!