The pandemic has driven record sales for e-commerce, but that doesn’t mean brick-and-mortar retail is dead – it just needs a tech makeover. Here are our five biggest tech trends.
One of our salvations during the global lockdown was online retail therapy, and we weren’t alone. Even though e-commerce was growing fast before Covid hit, the pandemic pushed fast forward. The U.S. saw an additional $105 billion in online revenue in 2020, and in the U.K., internet sales jumped from under 20% to more than 32% in just three months.
The convenience of online shopping has overturned traditional habits, and the growth rate will continue, so physical retail needs to upgrade its selling skills. Right now, lockdowns are
lifting globally and brick-and-mortar retail spaces are reopening; brands that are creative will get consumers through their doors and spending. Customers expect more from stores and are searching for exclusive, bespoke ‘browsing’-type experiences that are Covid-conscious and contactless. To do that, retailers must redefine their physical spaces and recruit the latest tech trends. From crafting pop-up stores and tactile scent- and sound-based sense experiences, through to assigning personal shoppers, brands are trying tactics to drive exclusivity and personalisation that can’t be replicated online.
They’re also using tools like Augmented Reality (AR), machine learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), blockchain, NFC or Bluetooth beacons, and revolutionary digital tokens like Virtual Atoms (VAs).
By harnessing these five tech innovations to create personalised physical experiences, you can build a store that leverages both online and offline strengths – a ‘phygital’ world. These hybrid stores remove friction and put the shopper in control of their experience: they can buy anywhere, and they can choose the method that suits them.
This mobile-first, omnichannel approach is the only way to futureproof retail success, especially for physical stores.
1. TREND 1: Virtual fitting rooms
We’ve spoken about our love of AR and its versatility, and how it’s already made a massive impact in retail: Gartner predicted the rise of AR to 100 million consumers by 2020 and were proven correct. In 2020, the customer conversion rate for AR engaged users increased by 90%. Using AR to create virtual fitting rooms perfectly harnesses the ‘try-before-you-buy’ approach, and without the hassle of actually physically trying on the products. It’s also more Covid-safe, and that’s why it’s becoming so common for retailers like Sephora, Etsy, and Kendra Scott, and used for cosmetics and jewellery.
A crucial physical part of this AR trend is ‘magic mirrors’, which are touchscreen digital screens that use AR and AI to add layers of interactivity in stores, and increasingly, in people’s homes. Smart mirror technology has been around a while, but it has evolved and is coming into its own now – and they’re perfect for this Covid-climate of shopping. Brands such as H&M are already using these smart mirrors in retail, and they’re all adding and offering bespoke features to this AR technology. They can also be paired with real or digital store stylists, and they let customers take and share photos, videos, or Boomerangs on their social media.
2. TREND 2: Chatbots
Chatbots are projected to save retail, healthcare and finance industries over $11 billion by 2023, especially considering their role in covering the staff shortages caused by Covid. Using apps like Kik and Facebook Messenger can help cut wait times and offer 24/7 availability. Some brands, like LEGO, have even created digital shopping assistants (their bot’s name is Ralph), which give customers personalised gift recommendations based on their answers to a few questions. Once a user decides on a product, Ralph directs them to where they can complete the purchase. Chatbots can also help with providing custom deals, tracking orders, and navigating websites.
Chatbots can also be used in creative ways. We used Messenger to create a bespoke birthday celebration and competition for Alexa. Sephora used Kik to create a personalised prom experience for high schoolers. The technology is secure – all you need is the right idea to unlock a new retail experience.
3. TREND 3: Shoppertainment & Shopstreaming
Shopstreaming focuses on streaming sales content on social media, and it’s the modern-day digital equivalent of the classic dressing room montage scenes. The Chinese jewellery chain, Ideal, has rapidly transformed from a traditional 18-year-old brick-and-mortar retail company into a digital success story by turning their store salespeople into social media influencers who stream shopping advice and detailed 3D product videos.
Customers need to experience your brand in new ways and to create social media content at your physical stores. Nike’s Time Square flagship store, for example, has a basketball court with cameras to record shots and treadmills with screens mimicking famous running routes. For your store, you can use custom video content booths, instore studios with editing software, or craft unique, shareable experiences to make social media work as a commercial strategy.
4. TREND 4: Hyper-personalisation
Retail and online stores need to offer more customisation options, where customers can design unique products with the personal assistance of experts, both real or digital. Examples of this are Nike’s By You sneaker design or the personal shopping style Stitch Fix. Data science and machine learning are two of the tech drivers behind this, but they’re not alone. Brick and mortar stores are using Bluetooth Low Energy and RFID technologies to collect customer data which is then used to personalise their experience through recommendations or data visualisations.
Trend 5: Voice Commerce
Alexa and Siri are now household names, and they no longer just serve weather or traffic forecasts; they’ve become fully-fledged personal shoppers too. Walmart’s Voice Ordering allows users to order entirely by voice and then makes it available for pickup.
It’s no longer a matter of when should brands factor in voice commerce, but rather how brands should make this part of their marketing strategy.
WRAPPING THINGS UP…
As always, we here at Because welcome change, and we’re positive about the future of brick-and-mortar retail. These digital challenges are forcing businesses to evolve and to offer an enhanced customer experience that’s powered by creative technology. If you need some help transforming your retail business, contact us here, and we’ll partner up to build you a store of the future.
If you want a sample of our marketing magic, let us host a free masterclass for you.