We spoke with Bryan Amaral, founder and CEO of Clientricity, LLC, a boutique retail consultancy based in Atlanta and New York, to capture his insights on emerging technology trends in retail for both brick-and-mortar stores and ecommerce.
Lately, headlines about the retail sector conjure apocalyptic images populated by empty storefronts and deserted shopping malls.
But reports of retail’s death are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain. What’s happening isn’t devastation—it’s transformation, driven by technology and more efficient business models. Ecommerce and in-store sales and interactions are becoming more seamless and more convenient for consumers.
“What’s really happening in stores is facilitating a new range of buying behaviors: buy online, pick up in-store; reserve online, pick up in-store; buy online, return to store. All these types of workflows require a store, a physical place where people can go and try or buy a product,” says Amaral. He has been at the forefront of retail technology for decades, working with retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Harrods, Brooks Brothers, and many others.
Technology, especially smart technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), predictive analytics, mobile, and others are figuratively removing the store walls. As technology infrastructure becomes more robust, retailers that can create agile operations and engaging in-store experiences, each enhanced by technology, can triumph over the wave of store closings.
Here are five ways technology can make the in-store experience better for everyone.
Customers have preferences and patterns. When AI is trained to understand that data and make good predictions, retailers can achieve a new level of service, says Amaral.
Let’s say you’re a clothing retailer. An AI-powered app that maps new lines to certain lifestyles or career demands may merge those categories with information captured about a customer’s preferences or buying behavior. So, when Ashley arrives and you know she’s an avid hiker and works in an office, you can make disparate recommendations about new arrivals that suit both her personal and professional lives. Add her measurements or a scan of her body, and fit recommendations can become more accurate.
In a department store, the technology can pre-filter a very broad range of options—think “Tinder for furniture,” Amaral jokes. Simply swipe right to share your preferences and up pops recommendations on similar styles, colors, and sizes that meet your taste.
Most of us have been greeted at a retail store only to have the employee go missing when we need her. IoT sensors combined with digital devices can “bubble up” real opportunities for engagement between retail workers and customers, says Amaral. IoT-powered systems will monitor where customers are in-store, alerting employees when customers seem to need help, adds Amaral. These systems can also track traffic patterns, which may lead to product assortment and placement improvements and help with loss prevention. Sensing and alerting IoT technologies finally removes the blind spot in the shopping process and allows retailers to know when and how to better engage their customers.
Amaral sees a day in the not-too-distant future where store owners and managers will be able to get “all of the feeds of all the data elements that they have, have an AI platform that can sift through all of that, and then help them understand where they should be putting their focus and making transformational changes inside their business,” he says.
While its power is just being explored and new applications tested, blockchain technology holds promise for everything from supply chain sourcing to inventory control to payments. This distributed ledger allows companies to monitor their products at every step along the supply chain, ensuring greater authenticity, ethical sourcing, and product safety. When inventory levels get low, the technology can trigger re-orders, helping retailers ensure they never lose a sale because products are out of stock.
As 5G is rolled out over the coming months and years, providing new enhancements to connectivity, other technologies like AI and mobile will become more powerful. Already, customers are using their devices to check prices, gather information, and shop. Location-based promotions and incentives are delivered directly to devices in an effort to get customers into the store.
Retailers can further capitalize on these new paradigms. For example, they can develop chatbots that provide information and answer questions digitally, while incentivizing in-store purchases. If a product is out of stock, inventory control and automated ordering can tell customers exactly when their purchase will arrive in-store or be sent to their homes. Devices will be the portal through which in-store and ecommerce transactions are merged rather than existing as adversaries.
Overall, the data, insights, and interactions these technologies will deliver and facilitate can change retail and help stores deliver engaging customer experiences. By making better recommendations and truly understanding what customers want, retailers can win loyalty and develop new, cross-platform methods of helping their businesses grow.
Oracle Can Provide the Power Behind Retailers’ Resilience
To take full advantage of the power of these advanced technological capabilities, retailers will need an IT infrastructure with the power to collect, sort through, and process enormous quantities of data securely. Converged infrastructure engineered to optimize performance and deliver real-time analytics with predictive capabilities will be key. Oracle Exadata on-premises and Oracle Cloud solutions, engineered identically to support any hybrid environment, can help retailers simplify, manage, and scale their architecture to ensure that reports of their brand’s potential passing are greatly exaggerated.