Last week saw the National Retail Federation (NRF) host its annual NRF Big Show in New York. The event is traditionally where the industry meets to discuss recent and expected future retail trends and this year the focus was on how the latest technology in the world of retail and commerce can be harnessed most effectively.
‘Personalisation’ has been a major trend in retail for a few years now with retailers both online and offline looking for innovative ways to make the shopping experience more personal. Digital technology is one of the main trends in this direction. We’re all used to seeing photos of garments being worn by models but new apps are coming to market that will allow a customer to upload their own photograph and garments will then be superimposed onto their figure using augmented reality techniques.
Customers will get a much more personalised impression of how particular items will look on them personally. While it might seem logical that this is most related to ecommerce, many brands have been experimenting with stations set up in bricks and mortar stores and customers have been first trying things on via the app before trying them physically. In some cases they are even satisfied with the app’s visualisation and go on to make the purchase with actually trying the items on despite a dressing room being in close proximity.
Another major trend that is continuing into 2018 is retailers more closely connecting their online and offline shopping channels. This is particularly noticeable in the increasing regularity of customers making purchases online and then picking up items instore, usually trying them on and potentially returning and changing items the subsequently decide against. This online-offline hybrid approach to shopping is proving to be a win-win trend as it makes the purchase process both more efficient and accurate for customers and benefits retailers. Purchases are locked in online and even if a customer changes their mind on an item they usually replace it with another instore. In the pure online model the revenue on returned items is usually lost as they are not replaced with an alternative.
Voice assistants are another technology trend expected to grow in influence for retailers as consumers start to make orders through Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. This is less the case with fashion, as customers are not inclined to tell a voice assistant ‘buy me a new pair of jeans’, but taking off for other products and services such as bouquets of flowers.
Finally, retailers expect AI to have a growing influence in their online marketing and the customer experience while in online shops. Recent developments in AI, and its application in ecommerce, mean that personalised suggestions of items a particular client might be interested in are becoming far more accurate than was previously the case. AI is also being used to work on ‘conversational interfaces’ with voice assistants and chat bots to make direct offers to customers. The delicate balance here is to find the best way to drive sales through the more personal approach messenger services like Facebook Messenger and voice assistants offer, without being overly intrusive.