Retail has seen a remarkable transition in the last 50 years. From local family-run shops in your neighborhood to global superstores, the pace of change has been relentless. But who is leading this change? Is it the retailers who want to show off their wares in the most spectacular manner or is it the consumers who are demanding constant innovation? Regardless of who is the instigator, retail has moved on and both the consumer and the retailer need to keep up. So, what about tech in the retail sector? Well, if the last year and a half has taught us anything, tech in retail has been needed like never before. As the saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.
While not necessarily new, having a webshop is something many people tried to do in the very early days of the web and many brands were striving for an online presence that went beyond brand building and into sales. There was a perception at the time, which is still prevalent in certain areas, that the days of the high street were numbered and nobody was going to brick and mortar stores anymore. This didn’t turn out to be entirely accurate but recent events and lockdowns have meant that opening a webshop has become a trend again. While not everyone will enjoy the success of Amazon, it’s nice to see an entrepreneurial spirit in this area.
Distribution and logistics have always been an issue. It’s a long chain from order to door and it only takes a break in one of those links to disrupt the whole system. We already know about automated systems for packing products and putting them into the shipment process but one trend that is really beginning to take off is drone delivery. Currently, this is a method of delivery that is much more commonplace in America and Canada but it is gaining traction here and just recently, for the first time ever in The Netherlands, a drone made a port to ship delivery in Rotterdam. New European regulations have cleared the way for this kind of technology and eventually, we may see unmanned freight and passenger transportation.
In-store tech has been around for a while, from Bluetooth messages as you pass a store trying to entice you into supermarkets giving you a scanner to price up what’s in you’re basket while you shop. One trend that is really beginning to take off is the introduction of ‘talking products’. The ‘talking products’ are merchandise where the tag contains a QR code. If the consumer wants to find out more information, they simply take out their smartphone, scan the QR code and they are taken to a specially designed page for that product with all the information they could need including demonstration videos. A major advantage for the brands is that this obvious innovation generates PR and word of mouth while also being a huge benefit to the consumer.
Mirror, mirror on the wall:
The fashion industry is creative by its very nature and that’s where this trend has found its footing. Obviously, we all want our clothes to fit – it makes us look better. The obvious solution would be to have everything tailor-made but that is of course expensive and impractical. What can be done though is the next best thing. With this innovation, the customer goes to the changing room and sensors in the mirror are able to accurately take their measurements. They are then offered clothes that will fit perfectly, which is ideal if you are different sizes between top and bottom. Although this isn’t necessarily mainstream yet, you can expect this trend to become much bigger as rollout becomes more widespread.
Subscription streaming services have gone through the roof recently and all of the larger players in this area have toyed with the idea of using their platform for retail sales. Now, while they would never damage their brand with interruptive advertising, they are open to tie-ins between brands and shows. Imagine you’re watching a cooking show and you like the pans the chefs are using. There could be an option to pause the show and buy the pans there and then. If you like the coat someone is wearing in a detective show… you get the point. Tele-shopping has been around since the eighties, but not like this.
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