What does the future of retail hold?
For an industry so incredibly, indelibly affected by COVID-19, this dynamic sector is facing a turbulent few years as shoppers return to high streets, downtown areas and malls across the world…but the future does look bright.
Tech, as with every sector, will play a huge part in creating more modern, safer, more relevant shopping experiences.
But while the front-end of retail becomes more eCommerce focused and experiential in design, the importance logistical challenges thrown up by a supply chain in flux, and staff shortages, will also be immensely affected by the efficiencies and power of tech.
Here is how tech is changing retail!
- Startup accelerator Plug and Play describes frictionless check-outs as, “a shopping experience where friction is reduced to a minimum. Transactions need to be easy and they need to be fast”.
- In short, it means leveraging tech (such as till-less shopping), decentralized shopping areas (smaller, community stores with personalized service), delivery services (completely retail-free shopping experience) and hands-free shopping to “enable retailers to extend operating hours, optimize the store operations, and deploy stores closer to shoppers, whenever and wherever they need”.
- It also means safety is a priority, with retailers taking the ongoing risk of COVID infection seriously and making sure customers are as safe as possible when engaging with a retail brand in-person.
- “It’s a term that describes retail spaces where shoppers encounter artworks, live events, cafés, lounging areas, video displays and virtual reality technology”
- At the front-end of retail, the experience of shopping is changing, as customers expect a more vibrant, more varied and more immersive experience.
- This means often retail spaces are turning into hybrid spaces, incorporating everything from VR shopping to hybrid food, drink and retail “courts” that expand and augment into event spaces, music venues, and more.
- At the back-end of retail is the nuts and bolts of getting products to shops and in the hands of customers.
- While robotics headlines tend discuss the merits and ongoing development of last-mile drone delivery and curbside drop-offs, the real innovation is happening behind the frontlines, in warehouses and logistics centers all over the country,
- “Inside Amazon’s warehouse1 in southern New Jersey, U.S., it isn’t uncommon to find giant beetle-like robots moving around busily with vertical shelves stacked on them…(and) the global robotics market is estimated to reach USD 87 Billion by 2025. It is believed that more than half of this will be allocated for the retail market”,
- “The Internet of Things (IoT) can help your warehouse to reduce risk and avoid mistakes or accidents that can create losses in the supply chain by early detection” such as the inclusion of sensors to monitor temperature and moisture, and real time data from shipping companies to better manage inventory and customer supply.
- Micro-fulfilment, as The Grocer puts it, “ is bringing online distribution centers into smaller, urban spaces”.
- The concept in practice means swifter delivery times, “dark” shopping experiences and more products in the hands of more customers, faster. Major retailers like Tesco in the UK and Amazon in the US are teaming up with small micro-fulfilment tech firms like Takeoff Technologies and Dematic.
- But while the dark shopping experience brings food and products to people at home quickly, it’s starting to affect the in-store experience, “a study found that three quarters of shoppers had noticed the increase of manual pickers and close to a third said it negatively affected their in-store experience”. Segmented MFC retail spaces (customers in the front, warehousing in the back all from one center) seems to be the most effective way to keep product moving and customers happy.