The doom and gloom of traditional high street retailers and shopping centers is well documented and a consequence of changing consumer behavior. Amazon already accounted for nearly 37 cents out of every dollar that U.S. consumers spent online in 2018 demonstrating that online shopping is rapidly killing the high street and shopping in stores. But when you analyze why, it’s not just price and convenience, it´s the whole experience of shopping online that has won consumers over. The key word here is experience: think next day delivery, rapid payment, fast one click checkout, suggested complimentary products associated with your purchase, predicting your next purchase, timely promotions and offers, easy returns, online reviews and recommendations – you know… all the things that have made us e-commerce addicts. So if this trend continues to grow (and it does!) what will happen to traditional shopping centers?
Well, the Future of Retail 2030 report by the CBRE suggests that shopping centers of the future will become just “centers” by reinventing themselves as mixed-use destinations and adding healthcare, educational and leisure uses. Why? Because these days you don’t just go to the shopping mall for retail therapy, you go for the experience, and this is where technology has an instrumental role. Especially as Black Friday and Christmas season rapidly approaches. Just as in the online world you have clever technology such as predictive analytics, data insights, transaction data patterns and trillions of consumer data points, the offline retail world is using technology to transform the onsite retail experience more than ever before. Information technology and consulting firm Wipro has rightly labelled this approach “Meaningful Customer Experiences” as the concept of partnering with customers at every step of the journey – transcending virtual and physical boundaries. Wipro is already working with many of the top retailers across the world to leverage technological and retail expertise to gain agility and reimagine shopping journeys deploying capabilities in design thinking, analytics, system integration, product engineering, artificial intelligence, cyber security and business support.
Seven of the best technology deployments in retail:
1. Artificial intelligence – The goal of retail technology is to make shopping more seamless—and lead to even more compelling experiences. AI is the next big wave in retail, the first was the internet, the second smartphones, which created new ways to transact. AI will now automate things and optimize them over time even more, and when applied to the customer experience it can achieve degrees of personalization previously unheard off. Stores are beginning to apply this by crunching data stored on storecards and loyalty cards though sophisticated AI algorithms, which then in turn can be accessed by the shopping assistant to make onsite recommendations.
2. Retail connectivity – Smaller and wearable gadgets will connect people to the Internet of Things and provide access to most information and services. Retailers will need to prepare to provide digitally enabled environments that can leverage consumers’ connectivity. These environments will need to complement — not compete — with consumers’ digital access. So something like adding geolocation, can give consumers in a shopping mall “passing through” tailored offers and really targeted shopping info that can boost the instore shopping experience.
3. Faster payments – The in-store checkout desk will be replaced by faster cashless ways to pay. Many retailers have already taken away the physical checkout desk. This is likely to continue as technology plays an increasingly important role as an enabler of retail sales. This will result in a reduction in the number of retail assistants required in this part of the customer’s in-store experience, thereby allowing retail assistants to be much more focused on personal shopping assistance. Other faster payments initiatives from Walmart, Nordstrom Rack, and Target, include equipping their sales staff with handheld devices that allow shoppers to pay wherever they are in the store, without waiting in line. Others are rolling out mobile self-checkout, which effectively turns shoppers’ phones into a point of sale.
4. Virtual reality – Virtual reality rooms offer an experience that few people can afford to have at home, and have already been trialed by US stores including DIY giant Lowe´s. Fitting rooms will help rather than hinder the shopping experience with technology allowing customers to try on an outfit in a virtual environment and show items already owned in combination with the item being considered for purchase. Fitting room technology will also allow the customer to request a different size, color or style via touchscreen, mitigating the need to leave the fitting room.
5. Retail tech – The concept of “retail tech” can be all about boosting the shopping experience through the use of glowing screens, biometric scanners, and robotic personal assistants. But the reality is more along the lines of technology deployed for traffic-tracking sensors, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, handheld scanners, and heat maps, all designed to provide a real-time snapshot of how the modern consumer is shopping in real time. This wealth of data unlocks an understanding of the in-store customer journey that’s deeper and more insightful than ever, and retailers that can successfully leverage this information to boost the customer experience will thrive.
6. Robotics – It feels like stepping into a sci-fi movie: walking through a store to see robots stocking the shelves, scanning inventory and chatting with humans. Retailers already use robots in the supply chain, in stores and in customer interactions. Walmart is the latest, and the largest, retailer to adopt robots with an army of 1,500 robots at its stores. As robots become more sophisticated they can become personal shopping assistants, give you the latest trends and provide you unbiased data-driven feedback on your latest outfit. An optional extra to improve the shopping experience? Maybe, but shopping centers across Asia are already trialing multiple robotic assistants in stores (maybe not surprising, as the five largest malls in the world now reside in Asia). Already robotic shopping assistants like the wGO, an autonomous and self-driven shopping cart, designed to follow people with reduced mobility (the elderly, people in wheelchair, pregnant women, those with temporary reduced mobility, etc.) in commercial environments is proving successful. With the wGO retail robot, the user can control the shopping cart without the need to push it. This brings numerous advantages and a higher level of comfort since the user does not need to worry about carrying the groceries or pushing the shopping cart, thereby making the experience much more pleasant.
7. Connected retail micro cities – The stores of the future will provide experiences, rather than just sell stock. Retail will be a leisure driven experience and not a transactional activity. Already more that 30 per cent of shopping mall space is dedicated to leisure (restaurants and food halls, cinemas, play areas, gyms, concert arenas, socialising zones, indoor golf and so much more) and this according to McKinsey Retail will grow every year as the divide between retail and leisure becomes increasingly blurred as retail brands address the need for an experience in their store. Unibail Rodamco Westfield’s Destination 2028’ vision, developed with the help of a panel of experts including a futurologist, fashion technology innovator, retail specialists and experimental physiologists, is focussed on shopping centers with the sole purpose of delivering a unique experience. It is no surprise that Cirque du Soleil, one of the most creative and well-known circus shows globally, has already done several events at shopping centers.
These days everything must be built on strong infrastructure, so inevitably cloud must be on this list. According to Oracle if you look at the omnichannel environment in retail that is today, it’s not offline vs online, it’s really having a view into the customer that enables you to meet them wherever, whenever. For example, this means that you can engage customers online, upsell when they return items to a store, and have a solid and highly personalized mobile engagement campaign, all because you know and understand all the ways they touch the brand. This also drives/includes many of the trends that we see today, such as buy-online-return-in-store, and buy-online-pick-up-in-store. The omnichannel environment is also a way for stores to have an edge over pure ecommerce giants.
Technology in the physical retail world is of paramount importance, and stores across the world are already trialling and applying new technologies focussed on attracting, retaining and keeping customers coming back for more.. The mixture of what stores can offer as a destination infused with leisure activities, can help create an unrivalled experience that the online world alone cannot replicate, and this undeniably is the advantage they must capitalise on. Roll on Black Friday, Christmas and the January sales!