Technology and Retail

Technology and Retail

For those in the tech industry, retail is full of opportunity for new innovation as well as improvements of current technologies that make shopping convenient and enjoyable for consumers. For retailers, these new technologies are opportunities to elevate their business to the next level. Most retailers have no choice but to improve their technologies in order to compete and to continue growing a prosperous business in New Zealand and globally. Here is a look at what retailers can expect from the tech industry in the coming year that will help grow their business.

Hardware and digital solutions

For the last few years we have seen significant changes in POS systems, payment systems and methods, and other innovations in retail hardware. But beyond the hardware itself, the retail technology industry is going through major change. We are seeing more interest in digital solutions that will help win the race to create deeper engagement with customers, while brands are looking for technologies that will do something different.

Some of the most popular new technologies are being implemented by fashion retailers. Online shopping that now includes "virtual try on" features are being offered more frequently than ever before. This feature allows a customer to either take or upload a photo from a mobile phone or computer, and try the product on virtually. Giving a customer this opportunity can remove some of the barriers to online shopping when it comes to fashion, although it is not a perfect solution.

Price comparison or price matching technologies are becoming more common in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. This technology is usually promoted on e-commerce sites and is also effective in-store for businesses who operate on both platforms. This feature would be near impossible to implement in a strictly bricks and mortar store, as the software would not be able to run pricing comparisons with competitors. Price-matching is often utilised when retailers sell various brands, and are competing with similar retailers or the brand itself. A Price comparison tool is used to drive consumers to a particular brand or product over another. This can be used to compare various products from one retailer, and also multiple retailers offering the same or similar products.

Connecting digitally with the customer is what retail technologies are all about. Retailers want to be able to connect with customers always, and in all ways. This is especially true for big retailers or those who operate in the global market. This should encourage more SME retailers to works towards expanding their piece of the pie in the global marketplace. There are consumers all over the world who would be interested in New Zealand based retailers and their products, but they just need to know you exist! It is true, there can be very expensive options to make this happen. However, there are also simple and low-cost options available too. If you're a retailer who has not heard of Instagram, or are not already on that platform, that is a good first place to start.

Technology has the power to change the way we shop

Retailers are continuing to strive for more digital experiences that are personalised to their customers. Often retailers are trying to use these personalised technologies to connect with consumers and make shopping convenient for them. However, utilising these personalised technologies in conjunction with face-to-face interaction and enticing in-store experiences is what successful retailers are doing.

Software which collects data on each customer when shopping in-store and online will help retailers market to these individuals better, especially for those who operate on multiple platforms. This data is often collected through loyalty programmes or an email address connected with the purchase. Loyalty programmes are one of the most convenient and cost-effective ways of tracking customer data. Consumers are much more likely to sign up to loyalty programmes if there are enticing benefits for their continued spending.

Keeping experiences personal for every unique customer can be quite challenging but providing more options for shopping with ease from anywhere, anytime is certainly a good place to start. Making use of mobile apps in addition to online will help to improve the convenience for consumers, and still allow for personalisation. Offering options such as click-and-collect, and delivery services also appeals to those busy customers, or those who want to try something new. When considering purchasing options from mobile platforms, return policies and ease to process a return or exchange should also be considered. In-store experiences can include digital screens or images, and hands on technologies the customers can use. For example, touch screens to view product ranges or get product information are an engaging tool.

Connecting online and in-store experiences are essential. Those who aren't already online in some capacity may survive but will find it difficult to move forward in coming years. Retailers should be improving digital channels to include options such as click-and-collect, or options that allow consumers to access real-time inventory across a number of stores at once. Click-and-collect is service that SME businesses with more than one store or warehouse should consider improving or implementing sooner rather than later. While retailers should not fear technology, they should be conscious about what technologies are the best for their business, avoiding tools that are too costly and won't not generate a return on investment them.

The growth of AI

Artificial intelligence is growing and becoming more widely used by retailers globally. It is being utilised in every stage of the retail cycle, including production and manufacturing, logistics, sales and payment systems. As with many innovation technologies, AI is a double-edged sword. There is a large variety of AI software and options available although results of AI have been a mixed bag across the different parts of the retail industry so far. Everyone in the tech industry wants to be the leader on this, but most are still working through the wrinkles. Artificial intelligence can be a good tool to keep in your back pocket, but don't put all your eggs in this basket just yet if you are only just beginning to invest in new technologies.

Tried and true technologies that are only getting better

Membership and loyalty programmes give retailers masses of information, and these systems are becoming more advanced and useful to retailers. No matter what your retail business is, if you don't already have a loyalty programme of some kind, start one! The data collected will allow you to better understand customer spend, frequency, products, and more. This means you can be better prepared to stock your business, set prices, engage with customers, and market appropriately. The technologies of the future look exciting but remember the core values that make a retailer or brand successful will continue to hold true. Therefore, it is important that all retailers who are investing in new technologies are able to implement the core values of the business into digital customer experiences because providing a good customer experience will never become obsolete.

by Scott Fisher, Retail NZ CEO

Published in the 30th July edition of Talking Shop.