With each day that passes, exciting technologies are creating disruption in the world we live in. As they say, the rate of technological innovation grows exponentially, and we’ve seen the proof of that in how many things have changed just in the past decade. What used to seem like science fiction—such as smart watches, virtual reality experiences, or autonomous vehicles —are now part of our reality.
So it only makes sense that retail continues to evolve and change with technology as well. We’ve seen how disruptors like Amazon and mobile apps have transformed the way we shop, and we’ve also seen how physical stores that refused to adjust fell by the wayside. The year 2018 was ripe with change, so we’re taking a brief look back at a few of the most innovative advances in the retail industry this year.
Just a few years ago, it would have been pretty hard to imagine walking into a store, scanning an app on your cell phone, and taking whatever you wanted and walking back out without "paying." Yet here we are in 2018, and stores like Amazon Go have opened in multiple locations nation-wide. Automation and digital technology will continue to improve the algorithms for frictionless checkout, and we’re sure to see much more of this type of shopping experience in the future.
Shopping with Augmented Reality
Retailers and brands began to experiment with augmented reality applications back in 2013, but this year marked a big step forward in awareness and practical use of AR for retail. Lowes began leveraging the Hololens in 2016 to give buyers an immersive look at home redesign, and Ikea kicked its Place app late in 2017, allowing users to view furniture and other Ikea goods within their own homes. These concepts have caught on, with Target most recently debuting their “See It in Your Space” app for the holiday season, giving shoppers a way to view artificial trees within their homes before purchasing. No longer just a gimmick, retailers and shoppers alike are finding AR a useful application for shopping.
One of the biggest trends in retail in recent years is partnerships between retailers, brands and startups. In 2018, meal kits and subscription boxes were a big part of the conversation. After Blue Apron partnered with Jet.com and Costco to sell its meal kits outside of the subscription model, it’s now also experimenting with one-hour delivery through its partnerships with GrubHub and Seamless. Similarly, Walgreens has partnered with Birchbox to update its beauty section to allow shoppers to sample and purchase Birchbox-approved products. Merging these types of online-only brands into physical retail allows that omni-channel approach that’s so important in today’s world.
Have you seen the latest ad from Google Home, featuring Macaulay Culkin reprising his role as Kevin McCallister from Home Alone? If not, please check it out, it’s great 90's holiday nostalgia. But what it also represents is the huge leap voice command took this year in the retail space. One of the biggest tech gifts from 2017 was Amazon’s Echo and Google Home assistants, and this year people everywhere were learning how easy it is to tell Alexa what to add to their grocery lists, or to reorder certain household staples, like paper towel or diapers. Voice command it going to be huge in the coming years, and retailers and brands alike will need to make sure they are including it in their strategies going forward.
Mixed Reality in the Retail Enterprise
By the end of this year, Walmart is slated to have distributed more than 17,000 Oculus VR headsets to its stores as part of a nationwide employee training program. Employees will be able to use VR to help them prepare for new waves of in-store technology, and also give them training on empathy and customer service. Virtual reality is also giving retailers and brands the tools they need to quickly and efficiently test and deploy in-store concepts that will create better shopper experiences. 2018 opened up new innovations in the space, including leveraging augmented reality for visualizing those same new concepts while walking around a physical store. Here at InContext, we’re excited to continue developing these technologies and providing even more retail innovation in the future.
If 2018 taught us anything, it’s that technology is quickly moving retail into a new space, where the distinction between digital and physical are irrelevant, and the focus is on shopper experience. Next year, we can expect to see more of this on an even greater scale, as well as the emergence of new technological retail innovations that many of us haven’t even dreamed about.