Retail comes in a number of forms however the two main types I refer to here are ‘bricks and mortar’ physical stores and online ecommerce stores. At the recent Online Retailer conference held in Sydney, I experienced what the new world of retail will be like in the future. A world driven by the needs and wants of the customer and a world driven by technology. Improving, customising and tracking the customer experience will be vital in the coming years. So how will this be done?

For traditional retail, it will be about combining the in-store experience with the virtual experience. Allowing the customer to shop online while walking through the store and seeing items they like, adding them to their shopping cart via an application and collecting their goods on the way out. In some cases, an item that’s out of stock can be still added to that cart and shipped to their home a couple of days later.

Some of the large retailers in the US are already testing this e.g. Walmart through special geofencing technologies where they track a customer’s buying behaviours and choices in-store and online. This allows the retailer to better customise their products specific to the consumer’s needs and to provide a better in-store experience. Another example is Uniqlo, who has used mirroring technologies to change the colours of an item of clothing on a customer. So, if a customer wears a red dress for example, they can see how the same dress would look in multiple colours and then purchase the colour of their choice.

With the combination of an in-store and virtual experience, we will see more ‘concept’ style stores showing up. Stores that have a smaller variety of the same product but provide virtual alternative items of that product. It may be a particular size or colour of an item, but it allows more choices tailored to the customer’s wants and needs. The items chosen for the concept store will be carefully selected on the back of very detailed customer analytics and customer buying behaviour to help increase conversion, all whilst contributing to an increase in efficiencies and therefore a reduction in costs e.g. staffing, floor space etc. RayBan glasses have been testing this recently, combined with AR, to vary the trying on and sales of both tradition and sunglasses.

Walking through the event stalls you had a sense that innovation is fast driving demand for new technology in the retail industry. And not only in store or online, but the whole end-to-end process. Receiving the goods in a timely manner is also very important. Customers want choices, and those stores that provide multiple delivery options have a clear advantage. The ability to track those orders, to see when are where they are at any exact moment, is also a competitive advantage. I even heard of some stores that provide the customer with an email update to say ‘your goods are on the way and by the way, would you like this new top that will match perfectly with the pants you’ve ordered? We can get it to you express post to arrive at the same time!’ It’s also about making the shopping experience easy, reliable and accessible for the customer in an efficient and timely manner.

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