How to Use Technology Trends in Retail
Blade Runner was not about shopping. But imagine if it was.
The small glimpses we got of how technology was imagined to integrate with life were cannily perceptive. From artificial intelligence to smart homes and hologram projections, some of these advances have come to pass.
Actually, if it were a film about retail, it would be far less superior.
These tech trends aren’t something out of the pages of prediction. They’re realities of the present. Not only is this tech able to save time and money, but it also impacts decision-making so that all choices can be more intentional. Once jinky, nascent and expensive, these resources are now on the mass market.
You might be put off by the idea that this stuff is hard to work with or unnecessary. Not anymore. The industry has adapted to a consumer base paying premium for convenience and speed. This tech gives small business owners more capacity for their objectives and purpose. And services like heymate! (free) and PredictSpring (fee-based) make it worth it.
Many are blogs about e-commerce platforms, so instead we’ll go into some of the more ‘revolutionary’ tools available for use today. These might sound like futuristic solutions with barriers for integration; with most of them, it’s hardly the case.
Inventory Management Systems
Not just any old process, but an AI-driven system that tracks stock levels and builds a supply or shopping list. It’s more than just a simple equation, too. Its greatest schtick is its ability to predict demand, automating knowledge about what your customers are gravitating towards, and what they’re likely to buy.
This wildly reduces human guesswork using proven predictive algorithms, and it saves a lot of time. Your e-commerce and physical inventory levels are always in sync.
While it can take time to turn away from the impulse to double-check, as your trust level builds using a system like this, you won’t think twice before using the generated list. 47% of on-the-ground business owners speak to real-life benefits. You can’t really argue with that.
Data Insight & Analytics
By nature, people are built to zero in on tasks and have blind spots. For busy business owners, it can be even harder to have a detailed overview of their enterprise. Limited time, money, and a hierarchy that separates white collar tasks from on-the-ground experience can detract from a unified system. Setting aside questions of health, the larger question of opportunity comes into focus. When you can’t clearly see what’s going on, you can’t see the openings for growth.
Using aggregated data, this is no longer a problem. This tech is intrinsically objective, and able to provide a robust overview of operations. It touches everything, from marketing campaigns, where it tracks what works and what doesn’t, to customer feedback, which is instantly turned into useful information. One kind of freaky but helpful process is alerting store reps to return customers, flagging their purchase history and formulating specific discounts or deals, based on their buying preferences.
Data has been used for years to inform business decisions, cut costs and capitalize on areas of opportunity. However, with AI technology, it’s now automated. No human error, no wait times. It’s right there, waiting for you to (for want of a better word) weaponize it. For businesses of all sizes, it’s quickly becoming a ‘key asset.’
There are also collaborative analytics. These tap into the performance and approach of the competition, allowing you to see how you measure up, but also which approaches may work best. Check out this Forbes article for some great examples of how collaborative analytics are playing out in the real world.
This leads us into automation for digital marketing. Using tech to execute repetitive tasks, like email blasts or social posts. It’s more personalized than ever, and that’s how clients tend to like it. If you present them with something relevant or interesting, or you’re responsive to their behaviour, it feels respectful and transparent.
If they’re a window shopper who buys once in a blue moon and you blast them with email paraphernalia, they’ll probably blacklist you. But if they’re a bargain fanatic and you give them advance access to sales they usually buy from anyway, they’ll love it.
Platforms like Marsello or Hubspot can segment based on user behaviour and engagement levels, using targeted campaigns with a customized copy. You can plan campaigns ahead of time, in one go, and schedule them to drop on a regular basis. Handy and intentional.
Virtual Reality Shopping
While these technologies were already on the rise, the pandemic made them oh so much more popular, through necessity. Distance meant safety. Most people were looking for an escape from repetition, worry and fear. Cue e-commerce growth of a whopping 44% in 2020.
Virtual reality stores can allow all of your online customers to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of your store, remotely. They can check out and purchase products as if they were really there. The story-telling can go even further; the experience can be designed however you like, depending on the technology you’re using. Some bigger retailers have done some pretty cool things: Marks & Spencer created a DIY showroom, where customers can arrange homewares they’re into to see how they would look, while Myer’s store got rid of walls, letting you fly around the space, from product to product.
That said, flashy aside, a basic VR store can easily take your retail experience to the next level and grow your prospective audience. Any kind of emotional connection or personal journey you can facilitate are building blocks of a customer relationship. Or if you’ve got swag and generally good vibes, the cool factor works, too. It’s easier and cheaper than most think.
From menus to payment, booking to reviews, it’s all in the palm of our hands. What was already a shift to futuristic one-tap apps that made us feel cool and very 21st-century, has also been accelerated by the pandemic. And some of these shifts have actually been… positive. Cheaper. High-octane.
Many businesses are getting on this, even if they’re not traditionally industries you would associate with contactless payment - hair salons, for instance. In retail, it’s huge.
The crazy competitive landscape doesn’t give leeway for dilly-dallying. Making yourself known means persistence or in this case, bidding.
Programmatic advertising is the automated bidding of ad space. It happens in milliseconds after a visitor lands on a website. The website captures information about that visitor’s behaviour and demographic. Then, AI bids on that website’s ad space if the company they rep is looking to target people like that visitor. The highest bidder wins, and their ad is displayed! The way it works is near-instantaneous.
The perks are obvious for this one: set your budget, waste nothing, knowing that only your demographic is targeted, and it’s all taken care of for you. Retailers have a lot to gain, with a worldwide revenue market from programmatic advertising valued at 6.08 billion USD. Platforms like SmartyAds, Hubspot and Sizmek are fixtures in a now-standard advertising approach.
Robot Delivery Service
While many companies are still in the R&D phase and we have yet to see mass adoption, robot delivery services are on the rise. If you haven’t yet seen a video of Starship’s grocery delivery robot in Milton Keynes, check it out. It’s cute, it’s impressive and instinctively you know when watching it that it’s the beginnings of what our future will look like.
Primarily advanced by food delivery companies at present, some robots work on sidewalks alone or are testing on roads as we speak. They have internal GPS locators and most have security features including cameras and a QR code required to open. The largest nod to retail development is with Amazon, whose Scout technology started delivering packages in 2019 and are now working in three US cities. Keep your eye on these - it’s going to be a boon in the future, and most likely a part of everyday life.
Fully Integrated Platforms
Having five or six different platforms to run your business seems antithetical in the age of minimalist architecture. You may outsource your payroll and use one program for inventory, but spreadsheet your staff schedules.
With streamlined flow and ease being intrinsic to the ambition of tech companies everywhere, this segregation is not the way of the future. One interface to handle everything, with unified flow and design, high functioning and set-up-free. They’re already in practice. We’re actually quite proud to be one of the first to market, with a solution that’s free - we don’t make money unless you make money. And it’s called heymate!
It handles literally everything for your business, including some of the stuff we’ve talked about today. That’s POS, staff and client management, inventory, payroll & HR, analytics, digital marketing, VR shopping, digital rewards programs… it’s pretty extensive. Feel free to check it out here for more info.
There are other competitors who have similar tech at market, although these are usually on a paid subscription basis. For retail, PredictSpring and Heartland Retail are strong industry players.
If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re already making use of the technology above, even if you’re just using a third-party service that does. These tools are surging in popularity precisely because they’re so useful. With industries geared towards evolution and higher ROI, it’s safe to say that this kind of tech is becoming standard, beyond the trend. This is especially good news for smaller players; when something is this ubiquitous, it becomes cheaper and available en masse, effects we’re already seeing happen.
These are all terrific options to leverage to further build your business, ensure it remains competitive, and gain hours back for the growth of the future.