The Covid-19 pandemic saw an explosion in online shopping, and retailers that didn’t already have an online presence had to scramble to catch up. Further, consumers expect a lot from retail brands these days—including curated inventories and customized experiences—whether they’re browsing in a brick-and-mortar store or on a website.
Navigating the retail industry isn’t easy, and recently, even large, household-name brands have struggled to adapt (and some have failed). To keep up with the competition in a global, digital marketplace, retailers may soon be exploring more tools to help them do everything from better leveraging social media marketing to powering last-mile delivery. Here, 16 members of Forbes Technology Council discuss tech trends they see impacting the retail industry within the next five years and offer tips to help retail businesses prepare.
1. Retail Offerings In Social Channels
The retail industry should consider offering solutions through the platforms (such as WhatsApp, Instagram, iOS Messenger and others) their target customers spend the most time on by integrating their business services into those social channels and leveraging conversational AI, chatbots and so on. This approach increases user adoption and engagement of their retail services, thus positively impacting business goals. – Tobi Otokiti, ProductDive
2. AR- And VR-Powered Online Shopping Experiences
There will be growing adoption of augmented reality and virtual reality in the shopping experience. With the advances in AR and VR technology, customers can now try products virtually, making the online shopping experience more immersive and interactive. Retail businesses can start by integrating third-party VR tools that already enable this experience. Experiment with that before building your own. – Atif Saad, saasguru
3. Virtual Assistants Augmented By ChatGPT
ChatGPT will soon enable virtual assistants to provide more helpful answers and a better customer experience than most humans, and they will never respond emotionally or inappropriately when an angry or irrational customer goes on a rant. Customers shun digital assistants and chat at present because the experience and value of interactions are poor today. Retailers that lead in this area will win. – John Gunn, Token
4. Demand Forecasting Via AI
I believe artificial intelligence in any setting is a cornerstone of efficiency. Within the retail environment, AI can teach businesses to anticipate demand. Through demand forecasting, retailers can decide which products to place on specific shelves, more accurately predict the seasonal popularity of products and even develop pricing metrics. – Vikas Khorana, Ntooitive Digital
5. Use Of First-Party Data To Create Personalized Experiences
The ability to extract and harness first-party data will soon become a critical component of how retailers build and manage digital customer experiences. Internal first-party data is more accurate and less expensive than third-party data vendors and can help retailers to curate personalized experiences that can lead to repeat purchases and more loyal customers. – Gleb Polyakov, Nylas
6. Inventory Optimization
For retailers, excessive inventory forces discounts and impacts the balance sheet; too little leads to delays and back orders. Merchants balancing physical and digital retail sites may see challenges in managing the two channels. Ordering the optimal range of products in the right amount of sizes and colors and bundling excessive inventory items favorably allows merchants to meet demand, keep costs down and drive sales. – Zohar Gilad, Fast Simon Inc.
7. Pursuit Of A Positive Omnichannel CX
Customers demand more from retailers and want a positive customer experience, whether they’re shopping online or in the store. In an extremely competitive environment, integrating the ultimate experience that leads to conversion requires new thinking and new technologies. But developing a positive omnichannel customer experience requires being open to customer feedback and adopting an innovative approach. – Len Covello, Engage People Inc.
8. Increased Use Of Automation To Augment Labor
We will see the growing use of automation, from fulfillment in the warehouse all the way to last-mile delivery. With labor issues being a constant, retailers will look to automation and robotics to augment existing labor. We already see picking robots in the warehouse, robots doing inventory counting in grocery stores and delivery vehicles on college campuses. Expect more robots in the next five years. – Guy Courtin, Tecsys Inc.
9. Optimization of Layouts, Inventory Management And CX Via The IoT
The Internet of Things can help retail businesses collect product performance data and analyze customer behavior. This data can be used to optimize store layouts, improve inventory management and personalize the shopping experience. IoT sensors can track inventory levels in real time, automate the reordering process and offer targeted product recommendations and promotions based on customer behavior. – Pavel Orlov, Innowise Group
10. Occupancy Tracking
The majority of offline businesses have little information about customer patterns inside their buildings. Occupancy tracking may be used to quantify the number of visitors and their distribution inside stores. Solutions vary from camera-based systems to smart sensors in the floor. AI can then be used to optimize revenue and reduce crowds by optimizing clients’ paths. Any AI starts with data collection. – Alex Gudilko, AJProTech LLC
11. More Use Of Touchless Payments
Touchless payments are something most retail organizations will want to figure out strategies for. We’re headed toward a future where I can walk into a store, grab an item and walk out the door without ever interacting with a salesperson. This upends traditional retail. Activities including monitoring theft, ensuring customer happiness and designing store layouts will all need to be transformed. – Lewis Wynne-Jones, ThinkData Works
12. Widespread Consumer Use Of Voice Search
Over the next five years, we will see more people than ever use voice search to find products and discover brands online. Retailers can prepare for this trend by focusing on high-quality, conversational content across their websites. One actionable way to get started is to include FAQs at the bottom of your product pages and popular blog posts. – Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster
13. Easily Accessible Environmental Impact Information
Consumers and businesses need to be able to see the environmental impact of what is being sold. Already in Europe, you can choose flights based on emissions. Logically, I can see consumers wanting to be able to scan a QR code on a particular retail product to determine its environmental impact as well as other socioeconomic factors, such as fair trade and so on. – Adam Sandman, Inflectra Corporation
14. Use Of Autonomous Drones And Robots In Supply Chains
One technology trend is the increasing adoption of autonomous drones and robots for space exploration and logistics. Retail businesses could prepare for this trend by exploring opportunities to leverage autonomous drones and robots for their supply-chain operations, such as last-mile delivery or warehouse automation. – Shelli Brunswick, Space Foundation
15. 3D Product Printing
Recent supply-chain disruption has evidenced flaws in “just in time” models. Previously inaccessible to the masses, 3D printing offers a real opportunity for retailers, as it enables real-time demand fulfillment without the need for complex supply-chain logistics. As the access to 3D printing increases, the concept of home shopping could be truly revolutionized and enabled by progressive-minded retailers. – Mark Brown, British Standards Institution (BSI)
16. Agile Supply Chains
I believe the growing ship-from-factory trend will create a counter-trend of consumer preference for hyper-local products. Retailers will need to diversify their offerings to include a wider assortment of local products, which in turn will require even more curation. This will push businesses toward an even more agile and federated supply chain. – Stacey Shulman, Intel Corporation