The shops are shut and everyone’s home – hopefully. In what’s pretty much a global shut down courtesy of COVID-19, never has an omnichannel strategy and innovation been more important for retail. While shop doors have been forcibly closed though, there’s time to reflect on customer expectations when they reopen. There were already nods to the future at Euroshop 2020 (which now seems half a lifetime away), namely an industry-wide focus on a new digitalised world, marked by data-driven retail and punctuated by state-of-the-art multi-media customer experiences.
Globally, we witnessed retailers and brands aligning with a connected ecosystem and unveiling tech-rich multi-media merchandising solutions, all designed to elevate and transform retail as we know it. Taking centre stage? A drive to exceed customer expectations with captivating, informative and entertaining components, in sound, vision and touch, across all categories and brands, with the central aim to drive interactivity and deeper engagement.
In particular, we witnessed a desire to engage elusive Gen Z and Millennials, to give them the personalised and enriched shopper experience that elevates bricks and mortar from online, and gives them reasons to return in-store time and time again. It’s a mission that’s going to be more important than ever, post Coronavirus.
Innovation will shape the future of retail and it’s those technologies that can scale that will be transformative. There were 3 highlighted at Euroshop that are starting to do that:
It’s common wisdom now that data gives every category an edge – perhaps none more so than retail. At Euroshop, there were multiple examples of how IoT, AI and RFID-driven applications are opening up a world of new commercial opportunity and revolutionising the sector through innovation.
Not only does this suite of tech provide mission-critical insights, enabling a better understanding of customers; the digital continuity now possible also enables retailers to strategically reshape their offering to drive business growth.
AI-driven automation in particular is giving savvy retailers a complete view of their customers and powering in-the-moment responses to their activities, all of which is driving higher engagement rates and a more sophisticated meaningful customer experience than ever before – not to mention delivering a true sense of personalisation.
RFID has been on the cusp of wholesale embrace by retailers for years now, but it’s evolving role instore and the inventive ways in which it is being coupled with AI, AR and VR (virtual reality) to deliver a vital platform to engage, educate and immerse shoppers, is becoming a major retail story in 2020.
The same RFID tag that is being widely used in stock control and security is also being used as a trigger in a bigger technology platform that can deliver rich interactive customised experiences. Lift and learn, place and learn – all use the technology connecting product to content and experience that engages, educates and triggers purchase.
More inventive solutions add AI and VR (virtual reality) to deliver enhanced state of the art retail experience and drive deeper shopper interaction. It’s big business: Goldman Sachs predicts that the global market for AR and VR in retail will reach $1.6bn by 2025, in part driven by companies like ICON.AI, which was named as a CES 2020 Innovation Awards honouree for its Smart makeup mirror.
At both Euroshop and CES, ambitious retail brands were embracing AR to deliver unique in-store experiences that enable shoppers to (virtually) try before they buy.
Together, RFID and AI provide a powerful range of multimedia experiences that act as a connection point between consumer and product or brand and enable retailers and brands to shape interaction and engagement.
The RFID is just one trigger that enables tracking and measurement of interaction, delivering vast amounts of invaluable customer data, highlighting key insights into how the customer journey is evolving. And this is empowering retailers to fast track decisions on stock and merchandising and to re-consider the ROI criteria in a retail purchase journey where the legacy point of purchase may no longer be where the transaction takes place.
Omnichannel and the retail API
Both online and instore, tech is transforming how we do business, driving cultural change in how we shop. Having a fully-integrated cross-channel approach and a single customer view is critical and the next generation of shoppers expect retail to be everywhere, instant and personal.
Every opportunity to interact is an opportunity to sell – and every piece of marketing communication becomes a new Point of Sale. The critical factor: consistent, seamless integration, where your content and actions transfer from platform to platform, so no matter how or where your customer interacts, the shopping experience is the same.
The ubiquity of the Buy-Now button means that media is the latest channel in the omnichannel-fication of retail. The next step should be marketers and media owners looking to retail as an API in everything they do, with any piece of marketing that does not connect to retail seen as a missed opportunity to sell.
That will mean rethinking the role of the physical store and its impact on the purchase journey, and potentially measuring it not simply on sales instore, but on its attribution in brand growth and commercial value.
As management consultant McKinsey suggest, it will be those retailers that can get a handle on the key moments of influence in the customer journey, on and offline, and that can deliver personalisation across platforms that stand to make the biggest gains.
How retail will look after this crisis is a big unknown. What’s clear is the current Coronavirus crisis is one of the biggest tests of omni-channel retail; those that dare to innovate will continue to challenge the legacy models and those that can scale innovation will shape the future.
Credit: Simon Hathaway, MD EMEA, Outform