The future of retail

Hey Siri, what’s the future of retail?

Chances are, Siri doesn’t know the answer. You can hardly blame her. The rate of technological advancement is baffling. Think about it. Less than a decade ago we didn’t know who Siri was. Apple’s intelligent personal assistant hadn’t launched yet. She certainly wasn’t telling us what time the local supermarket closes.

Times have changed and technology shows no sign of slowing down. Who knows how and where we’ll purchase our favourite products in a decade’s time. The developments on our immediate horizon are mindboggling. It’s all about making shopping quick, easy, and convenient. Here’s a glimpse into our thrifty future and what consumers and businesses alike need to be prepared for.

Voice-activated purchases

According to Geekwire, Amazon’s addition of Prime Now rapid delivery voice ordering to its Alexa-powered family of devices was just the beginning of ultra speedy delivery options. On April 18, 2018 Amazon revealed that its Prime membership has more than 100 million accounts worldwide. Membership benefits include free, two-day shipping on more than 100 million items. That’s a lot of transactions (and air miles). All you need is your voice.

Drone delivery

Drones are here and they’re going to deliver products to our doorstep – fast. Amazon’s Prime Air delivery system is designed to fly packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones. “It looks like science fiction, but it’s real,” the Amazon team states on their website. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.” It kicks off with a private trial in the UK and will roll out from there. “We will deploy when and where we have the regulatory support needed to safely realise our vision. We’re excited about this technology and one day using it to deliver packages to customers around the world in 30 minutes or less.”

Automated shopping trolleys

Automated shopping trolleys are here. The 2018 National Retail Federation’s annual conference in New York City showcased the companies and products of the future. These included start-up SwiftGo which has produced a device that detects an item’s weight as it is placed in a trolley. The customer scans and pays for everything through the mobile app. If the trolley detects an un-scanned product it lets staff know.

Meanwhile, Focal Systems is adding tablets to shopping carts. The company is dedicated to automating bricks and mortar retail. The cart has three cameras (one is side-mounted and looks at the shelves, the other two monitor what you put in the trolley). Your selections and the price is displayed on the tablet as you shop. Once again, you skip the checkout counter, pay automatically, and wheel the cart out to your car.

Start-up Xenia Retail, partnered with Microsoft with the aim to get rid of shopping carts altogether. Their technology allows people to use their phone to add purchases to a virtual cart. When you’re done ‘shopping’ you can choose to have purchases delivered to your home or handed to you before you leave.

Robot assistance

Dash is a robotic shopping trolley that pretty much does it all. The brainchild of Five Elements Robotics imports your shopping list and leads the way to the items you need. Once you’ve got your haul, the goods are paid for by swiping your card at the trolley. The robot also follows you to your car to drop off purchases, then finds its way back to the store’s docking station. Another device by Fellow Robots assists shop owners by making its way down aisles, checking for low stock and misplaced items. When detected, it alerts staff to order more. It also helps shoppers find what they’re looking for and answers questions. The future is here.

3D virtual tours

Buying a home doesn’t have to be such a nightmare. Real estate agents now use technology to save you time on home inspections. Adelaide-based business TicketyView produces intuitive 3D tours using use Samsung Gear VR. The tours can be added to a web page, online real estate listing, mobile devices, computers, and social media. It’s a bit like walking through a surreal virtual world – without leaving your home. As more real estate agents jump on the bandwagon, trekking across town for home viewings may soon be a thing of the past.

Pay with your eyes

A piece on technology trends by Fortune tips shopping aided by the use of facial recognition, voice ID, and fingerprints as the next big thing. Soon, there will be no need to swipe a credit card (lots of consumers are already using their smartphone). “Instead, you will be able to verify your identity for a merchant scanning your eyes with your smartphone, in what’s known as a retinal payment,” writes Jay Samit, independent vice chairman of Deloitte’s Digital Reality. “A bold clairvoyant could even predict that some major retailers will hop on the cryptocurrency bandwagon and issue their own secure currency next year.”

Interactive dressing rooms

Imagine trying on clothes and having accessories recommended by the mirror. It’s already possible. Smart mirrors are out there. Marie Claire and MasterCard joined forces in New York to open pop-up store Next Big Thing. It highlighted tech innovation such as dressing room mirrors with the ability to recommend accessories and beauty products to complement an outfit. Memomi also produces digital ‘Memory Mirrors’ which allow you to try clothes, accessories and make-up (without actually putting them on). Swap between colours, styles, patterns and sizes without messing up that pretty face. You can also see 360-degree videos and options side-by-side. Clothing store Gap also collaborated with Google to produce a digital mirror (developed by Avametric) to allow customers to ‘try on’ clothes from home. Augmented reality is also used by retail giants like IKEA who use an app to allow you to see what furniture looks like in your home (and whether it’ll fit) without having to lift a thing.

Augmented reality make-up

Trying on make-up through augmented reality is rising in popularity with cosmetic brands. L’Oréal AR-focused app Makeup Genius lets potential customers try before they buy. Take a selfie using your smartphone and swipe through different looks, lippy colour schemes and products. It’s a whole lot of fun – minus the mess.

Digital price tags

Digital price displays mean no printing delays and allow retailers to change their prices immediately. Electronic shelf labels are popular internationally and the concept is gaining momentum in Australia. Locally, New South Wales gourmet food retailer Causley Fresh and the Railway Hotel pub in Melbourne use esLabels Australia. The digital product labels (or tags) display pricing and product information in real time. The information is transmitted through a Radio Frequency signal (2.4GHz) and one of the benefits is efficiency. 54,000 labels can be updated per hour – with the click of a button.

Shopable Instagram posts

When Instagram launched Instagram Shoppable Posts, our world got a little bit more expensive. As a user flicks through eye candy on their favourite brand’s Insta account, they can now click and buy. It’s all done through Instagram, so you never have to leave the app. To set it up and sell via tagged products in your own Instagram account, you need to have a Shopify account and an approved shop in the Facebook channel. Given the popularity of the image-based social media platform, this will be a winner with retailers. Watch this space.

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