Accurately predicting the future of technology is an arduous task. Take Henry Ford, for example, who predicted in 1940 that flying cars would soon be part of our daily lives… as revolutionary and promising as that idea was at the time, it is unlikely to become a reality anytime soon. For retailers, investing in new technologies presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Investing in the wrong bleeding edge software is likely to put a serious financial strain on a business, whereas embracing the right state-of-the-art technologies can ensure a company’s prosperity and long-term competitiveness. How can retailers gain a glimpse into the future and a general idea of what lies ahead? Investing in the same solutions that the world’s most successful retailers (analysts often use the term “leaders”) are using is a great indicator of the technologies that merit further investment and the ones that don’t. In this article, we’ll share our top five technology trends that we believe retailers should keep an eye on in 2019.
E-commerce Growth Will Continue to Accelerate and Retailers Must Be Prepared
In recent years, online shopping has gained immense popularity – for good reason. Technology has become so intertwined with our lives that most of us spend nearly every waking hour connected to a device that supports online shopping, be it a phone, tablet, computer, or other IoT device like voice-activated assistants. Shopping online is both fun and convenient, and makes it easier than ever for bargain-hungry shoppers to snag great deals thanks to easy-to-find coupon codes and price comparisons. What’s more, today’s shoppers tend to appreciate the wider range of products they can find online. Statista found that e-commerce sales worldwide rose to 2.3 trillion US dollars in 2017 and that e-retail revenues are predicted to grow to an astonishing 4.88 trillion US dollars by 2021. Now is the time for retailers to ensure that the e-commerce platform they invest in allows for seamless upgrades and the flexibility to scale to meet the growing expectations of their customers and survive fierce competition. As an online store grows, the ability to adapt at the rapid pace of change while keeping costs down will become more important than ever in 2019.
Artificial Intelligence Is Going Mainstream
Artificial intelligence has become a retail buzzword that many retailers still struggle to make sense of, as they do not know how to apply it to their businesses nor how to truly benefit from it. In order to optimize their supply chains, the retailers who are in the process of overhauling their demand management solutions due to antiquated software systems should consider investing in AI-powered demand management solutions. According to Forbes, 66% of supply chain leaders say that advanced supply chain analytics will be critically important to their supply chain operations in the next 2 to 3 years, and artificial intelligence will play an important role in it.
Unified Commerce is the New Normal
Retailers know that customers expect a seamless, consistent brand experience no matter where and when they choose to shop. However, the reality of delivering what appears to be seamless to the customer from the outside is often held together with bubble gum and duct tape on the inside. Many retailers are incurring huge costs and risks to deliver a modern omni-channel brand experience and live up to customers’ expectations of fast, free shipping, click-and-collect (BOPIS), and more with cobbled together legacy systems that weren’t designed for the needs of today’s business. Manual, duplicate work in multiple systems is a profit killer, and retailers need to modernize to stay relevant. The benefits that retailers can reap from an end-to-end unified retail suite are endless: they can help them cut down costs, improve their overall productivity, reduce the risk of errors, and so much more. Retail Dive predicted that by the end of 2020, 81% of retailers will deploy unified commerce platforms, but only 28% of retailers have currently done so. Fully integrating retail solutions will become increasingly important for retailers in 2019 as well as in the upcoming years.
Augmented Reality Still Has Bright Days Ahead
While virtual reality has not yet gone mainstream – besides perhaps in the video game industry – augmented reality, on the other hand, has already conquered the hearts of some well-known retailers and their customers. For example, the IKEA Place application lets shoppers visualize what their furniture would look like (and whether or not it will fit!) in their homes by simply moving their phones around. The Sephora Virtual Artist is another popular augmented-reality application that lets customers virtually try on makeup – from eyeshadows to lipsticks, and even false eyelashes. Phone-based augmented reality is a fun way to both engage customers and make the customer experience more immersive. What’s more, augmented reality can help differentiate your brand in today’s increasingly competitive retail landscape.
Customer-Centricity Comes of Age
It has often been said that one of the defining retail industry trends of the last decade has been a shift from a product-centric focus to a customer-centric one. What retailers are now beginning to embrace, however, is that to win in the industry, it’s not about focusing on “one or the other”, but rather about excelling on both fronts. The extreme shift to customer-centricity has been misinterpreted by many who relied too heavily on gimmicks to win customers’ attention and fail to attend to the basics of demand management. True customer-centricity is not about retailtainment and marketing: it’s about gaining a deep understanding of your customer, flawlessly predicting and meeting their needs. Having the right product at the right place at the right time cannot happen without a focus on the customer and an intelligent, proactive use of the mounds of customer data that modern retailers have at their fingertips. Although experiential retail is certainly an important differentiator for physical retailers today, there is no amount of personalization or magic that will distract the shopper from the disappointment they feel when the product they want simply isn’t available when and where they’re ready to buy.