From augmented reality to AI and data analytics, IUF Group’s Josh Bunce discusses the latest trending technologies to upgrade the shopping experience.
The uptake in technological solutions has been accelerated across all industries and retail is no exception. This is being primarily driven by augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) providing shoppers with a completely new and immersive experience.
AR and VR technologies have come into their own during these tough economic times. Despite several high-profile brands going into administration or needing to be rescued, in the face of ever-rising costs and consumers trying to cut back on purchases to save money, some brands have adapted and stayed afloat, or even thrived thanks to these new technologies.
With the use of AR, customers can now see how an outfit looks on them using digital mirrors, while VR photo booths enable them to interact with their surroundings and engage their senses. As well as increasing the fun factor by using digital displays and the like, these technologies are also improving other aspects of the retail journey such as making drab interiors look more visually appealing and providing detailed product information at the tap of a button (or scan of a QR code).
Digital check-ins also enable personalisation, providing the user with bespoke offers based on their shopping patterns and behaviours, allowing the retailer to maximise customer value. More established technologies such as self-checkouts are also being upgraded to provide quicker and easier transactions.
The rise of AI and data
The key to all this is data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). They can be used to provide the retailer with every detail from a customer’s likes and dislikes to how they use the different retail touchpoints. They also show the areas where retailers should be investing more, how to tailor their displays (through digital screens and the potential for embedded facial recognition technology) and which marketing materials work and which don’t, enabling retailers to make more informed decisions.
How hybrid is helping retail to survive
Many retailers have already embraced this technology, using an omnichannel approach to maximise their reach and appeal to customers. While continuing to use their physical stores to provide the customer with the face-to-face shopping experience, they’re also more widely using digital channels for speed and convenience.
This strategy provides customers with the best of both worlds. It enables a personalised shopping journey, whether an individual chooses to shop online or in-store, and allows retailers to adapt quickly to changing consumer behaviours.
The omnichannel approach also ensures a seamless service for customers, regardless of how they choose to shop. If, for example, a shopper decides to add an item to the basket on the retailer’s app, it should still be there if they later want to check out on the website. It is a strategy designed to move with customers throughout every digital and physical touchpoint of their journey. Added to that, it removes the need to re-enter data or rebuild personalisation, and it provides a consistent experience whenever and wherever a customer engages with the retailer.
Why the big shift towards hybrid retail now?
On the face of it, the move towards hybrid seems to be purely about cost cutting and opportunity, because a physical store is much more expensive to run and maintain than a digital store and warehouse.
But retailers are also using hybrid strategies to deliver value to customers. When every transaction is vital – and yet customers are struggling to get through the ongoing cost-of-living crisis – value is key. The ability to use technology to personalise the shopping experience, offering discounts and promotions to customers who shop both online and in store, not only enables retailers to reach as many customers as possible but to make them feel special with offers that appeal to them and reflect their lifestyle.
Convenience is key
The drive towards convenience and the ‘on-demand’ lifestyle has ushered in the evolution of the flexible shopping experience – click and collect, kerbside pickup and same-day delivery. As a result, retailers are prioritising service. They are also using technology to meet customer needs in a way that was previously impossible.
Hybrid retail is about the creation of a convenient and seamless integration of the physical and digital worlds, for the mutual benefit of both customers and businesses. This has only been accelerated by the current economic downturn, with the need for survival making the retail environment far more competitive. That’s where the hybrid approach can give retailers a competitive edge.
By Josh Bunce
Josh Bunce is the founder and CEO of iuf Group, a London-based company that provides creative AV solutions.
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