Need Of the Hour: Disruptive Technologies And Innovations In the Retail Sector

For a long time, conventional retail mistakenly treated technology as the opponent's weapon while all along it should have been the tool for innovation and re-invention

By Kapil Kohli

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At the turn of the millennium, what started as innocuous online book marts had already started spreading their influence and outreach across product categories bringing digital disruption to the doorstep of every retailer. The ease and convenience of shopping online and improvements in supply chain management coupled with enhanced user experience ensured that the ubiquitous online was now a real alternative to the traditional retail sector.

With rapid improvements in Internet proliferation—both in terms of reach and speed—now made for a compelling and complete rout of retail dinosaur as we had known it. For a long time, conventional retail mistakenly treated technology as the opponent's weapon while all along it should have been the tool for innovation and re-invention. This switch is no more a luxury but a pressing need of the hour.

There are many ways in which technology as a disruptor can be useful to retailers in bringing the wandering consumer back; tools that can improve efficiency, increase profitability and enhance customer experience and thus bring freshness to the brand based on shopping experience as the primary dimension.

Some of the most promising futuristic technologies where the "online' was the early adapters can in effect become the hallmark of the "new retail' driven by consumer experience. Focusing on this tacit advantage of physical presence of the consumer at the store would also allow the retailer to encash on the sense of touch and other sensory perception. Some of the disruptor technologies include the use of artificial intelligence (AI), geo-fencing and beacon, data-driven targeting and virtual reality tools to enhance in-store navigation and experience.

Artificial Intelligence

Technological advancements such as virtual shopping assistants, in-store stylist robots, AI-powered recommendation engines, bot-managed billing counters, etc., have altered the dynamics of retail drastically. Heuristic learning has given these bots the ability to execute in real time with smartness gathered from customer data mining. The largest of retail companies are now finding means and methods to utilize these robots in their day-to-day operations to streamline functions such as stocking, store layout and product presentation, among others, and in the process, also becoming relevant in the face of their online counterparts.

Geo-fencing and beacon

Mobile empowers marketers to reach larger audiences in a way that is real-time, personal, location-aware and geo-targeted. This is where geo-fencing and beacons come into picture, and benefits retailers. Increasingly, retailers are installing in-store beacons for location-based marketing enticing customers to walk into stores (geo-fencing) and provide value-added experience in-store (beacon), giving them competitive advantage over others.

Data-drive customer targeting

Data analytics and data intelligence, similarly, present a striking picture of reinvented retail and retailers have found myriad uses for it. Customer identification and contextualization that can deliver a highly personalized experience is a virtual gold mine. Collecting, transforming and analysing customers' online and offline shopping behavior, preferences, demographics, social profiles and every bit of customer details for accurate customer target, is what Big Data offers to retailers.

Shopping customized to individual requirements

E-commerce websites work in a manner where they always accurately understand the needs of the customer and information is available on whichever device the customer chooses to use. This well-selected, organized and presented style of shopping makes it easy and convenient for the customer and he or she does not have to waste precious time in browsing different online stores to find the right one. Today's technology-savvy stores contain smart screens and tablets to give a personalized experience to their customers.

Renovating brick-and-mortar stores as emotion-experience centres with advanced elements like AI-enabled virtual mirrors is helping bridge the individual limitations of these two platforms and leading to a well-co-ordinated marketplace for the customer.

Finally, retailers are also realizing that offline and online channels do not need to compete with each other and can effectively integrate to provide a seamless footprint in an omnichannel world exploiting the benefits of both the platforms to become omnipresent to the consumer.

Driven by tech-savvy customers, retailers can now provide them with a seamless shopping experience whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone or in a brick-and-mortar stores. To keep their business growing, brands have put their products on multiple channels for the easy convenience of the customers. In fact, augmented reality is providing a new face to the omnichannel consumer experience.

These technologies thus, promise to better equip retailers for turning prospects into a buyer and a buyer into a loyalist while simplifying the entire sales cycle.

Kapil Kohli

President-Retail, Usha International

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