The retail market has always been technology-led, but in the digital age this is especially true and 2020 is proving to be a bumper year for significant developments.
Here is a look at the tech breakthroughs that are shaping the industry at the moment and the trends which could have an impact in the near future.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has become increasingly important in various sectors in recent years, with retailers choosing to embrace machine learning solutions to dive into the reams of data that customers generate and produce actionable insights based on in-depth analysis of behaviours.
Of course the role of big data in retail is well established by this point, so the area which some companies are turning their attention to is how AI can be applied to optimise how supply chains function.
This type of function has been trialled by a number of firms in the past couple of years, with fashion brands in particular harnessing AI to not only predict customer needs, but also streamline the process of shipping products to the right stores and locations to cope with peaks and troughs in demand.
Augmented reality (AR) is another technology that is increasing its profile this year, with major firms like IKEA adopting AR-powered features for their mobile apps which are especially effective at boosting sales in the event that customers cannot actually get to bricks and mortar stores to see products in the flesh.
Modern consumers are totally comfortable with using mobile apps for almost everything, ranging from browsing shopping services to playing any online casino smartphone owners can access. With the assistance of AR, any app can become much more immersive, and retailers are perfectly positioned to take advantage of its abilities.
In the aforementioned context of IKEA, the use of AR lets customers see what items of furniture will look like in-situ by simply pointing their phone at a part of their home where they intend to place the product in question. More companies are adopting this tech to achieve other impressive feats, such as letting users enjoy a virtual changing room experience to try on clothes digitally before they order.
While most of the tech action in retail is happening online and on mobiles at the moment, there are still a host of evolutions that are revolutionising the experience of visiting bricks and mortar locations.
One excellent example that will be even more impactful this year is the growing combination of human store workers with digital devices that allow them to be even more responsive to the needs of customers. From checking stock levels in a jiffy to comparing prices and snaring deals whether visitors want to buy online or in-store, sales associates are being empowered by portable tech.
Furthermore the rollout of such devices and solutions is allowing retailers to generate even more data on the journey that customers take, meaning that it is easier to track how they behave in real world outlets, even if they eventually use an e-commerce site to go through with the purchase.
Checkouts check out
Traditional checkouts have been changing for over a decade now, but the era of checkout-free retail is finally becoming a reality in 2020.
Amazon has been leading the charge, with its first forays into the bricks and mortar market focusing on stores that do not require customers to visit a cashier. Instead purchases are collated through mobile devices and AI-driven surveillance, making for a frictionless experience.
While the expense of implementing such systems may be prohibitive at the moment, some UK retailers are entering the fray and it should become more widely affordable in the coming years.