2018 Retail Predictions: From robotics to tailored customer service
As part of Internet Retailing's yearly tradition, they step back to reflect and look forward to what the New Year will bring to the ecommerce and multi-channel retailers. They spoke to contributors from across the industry about upcoming trends they believe will sweep the world of retail.
Chatbots will enhance customer service
Julia Ayling, head of research & insights, Mindshare UK
“With all the innovations on offer, customer experiences in the retail space could be transformed in a relatively short space of time."
“From chatbots to self-service ordering systems, our trends report for this year shows that people are starting to become more aware of the increasing amount of automated services retailers are using to provide enhanced customer service. In 2018, people will be thinking more consciously about the promise of greater convenience versus the loss of human interaction and brands will need to carefully consider what their automated services offer and how they position them going forward."
Scott Clarke, chief digital officer and global consulting leader for retail, consumer goods, travel and hospitality, Cognisant
Personalisation is the battleground for various industries, including retail. However, in many cases, too much choice has diminished the experience of the customer, not enhanced it. We all feel this from time-to-time: too many different brands, colours, shapes and materials to choose from can actually be off-putting and stop us from shopping altogether.
In the future, retailers will produce bespoke and tailored clothing items in a matter of hours, rather than days or weeks. Consumers will no longer go into a store and buy a small or medium-sized jumper. 3D body imaging in-store will allow retailers to retain customers’ measurements and preferences, enabling them to create tailored clothing, quickly en masse.
Retail organisations will be forced to break down internal siloes to deliver a seamless, cohesive customer experience
Meyar Sheik, CEO and co-founder, Cortona
Shoppers don’t see various channels as separate entities. To them, it’s a single, homogenous brand experience – and retailers need to view the structure of their business similarly. Data must be shared across all segments of a business, moving away from the traditional notion of departments as disparate sectors.
By bringing together data from all aspects of the business – marketing, e-commerce, customer service, in-store, email, social media and more – retailers can create comprehensive profiles of shoppers. By using tools and techniques such as artificial intelligence, this wealth of data can be analysed and interpreted at scale to provide highly individualised, in-the-moment customer experiences across all channels, anytime and anywhere.
Retailers will better leverage digital channels to drive traffic and create more meaningful experiences in physical stores
Sustaining in-store footfall has been an ongoing challenge, with every new year bringing predictions of the demise of bricks-and-mortar. Retailers must adapt by re-purposing and re-positioning the physical store within the retail ecosystem.
Next year we’ll see the emergence of new kinds of physical store, which creatively integrate the digital and the physical. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), mobile scanning and payments, greater adoption of clicks-to-bricks, and proximity marketing are just a selection of the tools we can expect retailers to trial. Retailers also need to better leverage in-store data to personalise digital experiences after purchase. This will enhance personalisation across the customer journey and create more seamless, meaningful experiences overall.
Personalisation in grocery will begin to see significant momentum
Next year we’ll see more grocers experimenting with ways to make the online experience as personal and tailored as if the shopper were browsing in-store. Harnessing data from real-time shopping sessions and loyalty card programmes, we’ll see more retailers deploying tactics such as: suggesting recipes based on dietary habits, recognising carted items to see if a potential ingredient may be missing and reminding shoppers when an essential item such as milk, is running low. Also leveraging information based on purchase history and using geo-location to highlight upcoming holidays and calendar dates to suggest relevant products.
We’ll also see the trialling of different methods of delivery and order fulfilment, such as buy online with the option for delivery or in-store pick-up, subscription boxes (e.g. organic vegetable boxes), recipe meal kits, and using third parties for delivery and logistics.
The rise of the robots
Eyal Malinger, investment director, Beringea
"As machine learning and artificial intelligence have become increasingly sophisticated, we have seen numerous retailers implement the technology to become more efficient. Robots are now a common sight in warehouses - Amazon already uses 45,000 thousand of them - and we’re now starting to see them used to manage stock in-store. Walmart recently announced it would be using robots to audit its stores, checking inventory, prices and misplaced items."
"The rise of voice services and products like Amazon Alexa and Google Home have made consumers more comfortable interacting with ‘bots’ - the Amazon Echo Dot and voice control Fire Stick were the biggest selling products from any manufacturer in any category on Amazon over the Black Friday, Cyber Monday shopping binge. Together with developments in technology, this has driven a range of ‘shopping assistant’ tools via messaging services. Both Sephora and H&M introduced popular chatbots via the social media service Kik, while Domino's Pizza launched 'Dom' via Facebook Messenger - making it easier and quicker than ever for super fans to order their favourite dish. "
"There’s no doubt that robots will continue to impact the retail industry in years and decades to comes, whether in physical or virtual form. This will, in turn, change up the retail workforce considerably. Robots won’t just be used to perform repetitive, manual tasks; they will also be able to comb through data and provide more consultative sales assistant roles. It may be some time before robots can perform either of these roles exclusively - Amazon still uses human pickers in its warehouses - somewhat controversially - after all. However, it is highly likely that we’ll see a gradual increase in technology positions in the retail sector as this develops, and designing the algorithms for best outcomes will be a key differentiator."
Development of personalised customer experiences through conversational commerce
Vicki Cantrell, retail transformation officer, Aptos
ComScore has predicted that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be by voice. If this is to become a reality, next year will see retailers ramping up R&D in this area in a bid to get ahead of the competition.
Amazon currently holds the share of the personal assistant market, which it will no doubt capitalise on to increase sales in other areas of its business. Other retailers must follow in Amazon’s footsteps, and develop their own features and experiences which harness this technology to engage and suggest products or content to shoppers.
Retailers will also invest in voice recognition technology for customer service, integrating features like chatbots into their digital channels. This will give rise to a new trend coined by industry experts – A-commerce – that will see shoppers capitalising on the ease, speed and convenience that chatbots and assistants provide, by outsourcing their shopping needs to a virtual companion. The easier it is to buy, the more both retailer and shopper benefit as 2018 heralds a new age of retail.
Picture credit: kathayut (Fotolia)