Since the dawn of the penny stores and the early Sears catalogs delivered by cowboy-escorted railroads, retail has always been an ever-changing and evolving industry.
Nowadays, as technology and the Internet have become more and more integrated with daily life, so has it become more integrated into the retail industry. From tiny improvements to massive changes in how retailers advertise to consumers, here are 8 different ways in which technology is changing the face of retail shopping.
1. Artificial Intelligence
AI has come a long way since its earliest debut as an opponent in Pong. Now artificial intelligence apps like Siri, Hologram Barbie and predictive apps can recommend products, stores and do the shopping for you with a simple tap of the phone or a voice command.
Further specialized AI can collect information from shoppers to narrow down their preferred purchases and promote similar products that they might like. It's like a 24/7 customer service representative but in a phone!
2. Augmented reality
If there's anything that the rise of Niantic's Pokemon Go has taught us in 2016, it's that people REALLY won't look at anything besides their phone if there's something interesting on it (and that trespassing is in fact, an actual crime).
So why not just cut out reality entirely and promote sales and special offers through AR displays right on your customers' smartphones? Hey, at least they'll be looking where they're going this time (and they'll be aware that there's a buy 2 get 1 free sale on paper towels in aisle 7).
Much like how google searches now use algorithms to tailor their search result pages for people depending on their search histories, augmented reality apps and AI can now do the same thing.
No longer will John be bombarded with pages of khaki shorts and cargo pants when he is clearly a jeans man. Instead, he will be greeted with mostly a sea of Levis and blue denim.
That means less of John's patience and interest will be lost and more profit for you.
4. Friction-less Shopping
With Amazon moving from online to the physical dimension, they've brought their technological savvy and know-how along with them, too. Using a similar method to the hands-free East Asian metro passes, Amazon's retail stores, Amazon Go completely removes the notion of not only cashiers but self-checkout, too.
By passing through the booths at the entrance and exits, all items are automatically scanned and charged to the customer's credit card through their Amazon account. Now that's what I call an express lane.
Yes, one can't ignore the power behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but beyond that, there's something more important: blockchain.
Blockchain offers a much more secure method to track the shipment of products while creating a digital record of it on file. It's been thought that it could help enhance security, make transactions more efficient, prevent fraud and handle both local and over-seas payments.
De Beers, the world's largest diamond producer, has even started implementing it to track its diamonds. Blockchain in the retail industry is still in the testing stages, but there's no doubt that it'll have a tremendous impact on it, especially if Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies turn out to be a mainstay and not just a fad like Beanie Babies.
6. Facial Recognition
Much like how NASA's inventions were later used to make anti-gravity-proof pens and the Tempur-Pedic mattress, so has airport security technology now been used for retail-related purposes.
Facial recognition tech, created for identifying criminals and registered terrorists, is now being patented by Amazon so that customers can verify purchases and pay with them via a selfie. Facial recognition tech can also be implemented with AI and a retail product database to immediately recognize regulars and what their usual purchases are. And hey, there's nothing stopping retailers from using the tech for its original purpose: bye bye repeat shoplifters!
7. Robotics and Androids
Robot assistants have been a sci-fi fantasy for decades and now they may soon become a reality. From hyper-realistic gynoids handling the reception desks at hotels to EVA-looking robots patrolling the aisles, robots can now check stocked products, provide customer service in multiple languages, restock shelves and zoom around the store like a tower-shaped Roomba.
Some stores even advertise their robot employees and use them as an attraction to reel in customers. After all, who hasn't dreamed about being served by a robot ala The Jetsons style?
These beacons won't be flashing lights or noises, but they will activate your smartphones. Beacons have already been implemented by airlines to alert passengers of arriving and departing flights, but their impact on retail is much greater than that.
By notifying shoppers of locations, sales and events nearby that match their preferences and needs, beacons can greatly drive up the average number of store visits and purchases made at a store in-person. Beacons also work with Eddystone, an open-source language that anyone can code with, and Google's Google Plus and Google Maps networks.
Amazon may be surging through in terms of e-retail and friction-less shopping, but that doesn't mean that other retailers don't have any tools to catch up to them!
Unfortunately, as most of these advances are in the piloting stages (or have been patented by Amazon), it'll still be while before any of these things make it to the major retailer market.
For everything else a retail store needs, there's United Store Fixtures!