Retail is moving at a rapid pace, and to keep up, merchants must always be on the lookout for game-changing trends and technologies. To help you do that, here is a compilation of some of the most interesting innovations happening in the industry.
1. Omnichannel and unichannel technology
The concept of omnichannel isn’t new, as retailers have been working to provide customers with seamless shopping experiences for years now. Most merchants have accomplished this by integrating their online and offline inventory systems that keep products in sync.
But an even more innovative approach is to implement a unichannel retail strategy, wherein products across multiple stores, brands, and channels are managed using one system.
Unlike omnichannel, unichannel initiatives rely on one robust platform. This eliminates any disconnect between physical and digital channels, allowing retailers to run a smoother operation.
One example of a retailer that’s moving towards this strategy is Inditex, (the parent company of Zara, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, Zara Home and Uterqüe). By 2020, Inditex plans to unify stock management across all its brands, stores, and channels, so shoppers from all parts of the globe can purchase their products.
2. Predictive analytics and machine learning
Predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will continue to permeate the retail industry. Here’s how:
Stock management – Inventory management systems are getting smarter. A number of solutions can now use predictive analytics and machine learning to analyze sales trends and to generate also recommendations for orders for repositions from warehouse, transfers and product purchases. In addition, these tools will help retailers in the definition phase of assortment and store implementation of the new collections.
Staff management – The same technology can also revolutionize staff management. Tools such as AnalyticAlways’ sales management coach can serve up intelligent recommendations to a retailer’s sales staff, based on their performance and targets. These insights can motivate associates and encourage them to improve.
Merchandising – Predictive technology can also help with the planning of new seasons and help product teams find the right balance between art creating a collection and its marketing. Tools oriented to the mapping of heat and performance zones per m2 in the stores allow exchanging information from the plant with the personnel in the store. In this way, the employees can develop actions to find out how to have an adequate visual merchandising and improve the efficiency per square meter while the planners take the reins of the strategies in the last mile from the central office.
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3. Augmented reality (AR)
More and more companies are exploring AR technology to enhance the retail experience.
IKEA, for instance, collaborated with Apple to create IKEA Place, an AR app that lets customers preview how different furniture pieces would look in their physical environment. In addition, the app “lets you share your ‘place’ with social apps like WhatsApp or Instagram. And ultimately, order your products through IKEA Store.”
Burberry also made a foray into augmented reality when it added AR features to its app. According to Bloomberg, “The augmented-reality feature interacts with users’ camera feeds to digitally redecorate their surroundings with Burberry-inspired drawings by the artist Danny Sangra.”
Augmented reality is also very popular in beauty and cosmetics retail. Companies such as L’Oreal, MAC Cosmetics, and Sephora have all rolled out AR-powered mirrors that allow customers to virtually try on different shades of makeup.
4. Digital mirrors
Meanwhile, more and more fashion retailers using virtual mirrors to enhance the apparel shopping experience.
Rebecca Minkoff was one of the first retailers to do this with her advanced fitting rooms that had digital mirrors which let customers do things like adjust the lighting, see more products, and request assistance.
Other retailers are following suit. Mango and Vodafone announced plans to roll out digital fitting rooms as well. These rooms would allow customers to contact floor staff from the mirror. What’s more, the mirror is capable of recommending relevant products to complement what the shopper is trying on.
Forward-thinking retailers are starting to use robots in their operations.
Look at Amazon, which now has 100,000 robots in its warehouses to help with order fulfillment. The Daily Mail reports that “Amazon uses its robots to carry stock around the expansive warehouse floors and group together all the individual items needed for a specific order.”
Beyond operations, robots are also proving to be useful in marketing and customer service.
For one, retailers are turning to chatbots to communicate with customers. Powered by AI, chatbots can engage consumers through messaging apps to answer common questions and provide basic information.
6. Movements towards sustainability
As consumers become more environmentally conscious, we can expect to see innovations around sustainability.
For example, there’s renewcell, a Swedish fabrics company backed by H&M that can recycle fibers out of old clothes. According to H&M, the technology could “accelerate the journey from a linear fashion industry towards a circular one.”
There’s also Blanche, which creates denim textiles from leftover and organic fabric. “Taking a holistic approach to timelessness in fashion, we began at the fundamental design: denim,” the company states on its website. “However, our denim is more than just that: it’s made from pure textiles through sustainable production where a large majority of our materials are either organic”
In conclusion, we move towards an user experience that will revolutionize the processes of the value chain of retailers in fashion, and in all its steps, from the preparation of new collections, to the moment of sale and after-sales Support.
Not only large multinationals already have access to this type of tools, but the option to transform digitally is also now in the hands of all types of retailers thanks to the recent democratization of technology. The dynamic companies that join consultancy, knowledge of the sector and technological platforms have been strengthened to offer a scalable service that can grow at the same time as the requirements of the retail companies in physical stores which also operate via e-commerce.
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