Technology & Retail


What does the world of retail look like when combined with the advancements in technology? It feels like it’s moving in leaps and bounds with things like AI becoming less of a thing we see in the cinema and more of a common part of our day to day lifestyles (hello Alexa). But what does this mean for retail?

It’s not uncommon for retailers to be both on and offline these days. Most traditionally bricks and mortar stores at the very least have an online presence if not an online store, however technology is changing the game once more in a number of ways.

Firstly, digital experiences in their initial stages of consumer interaction were quite stagnant and impersonal. Algorithms dropped in names and products and provided little to no opportunity for a personalised service like you would get if in a physical store. Those days might be no more soon we advancements in AI technology now created virtual shop assistants that now help and react as opposed to just stick to their one coded path.

Take for example In 2016, they launched Gifts When You Need (GWYN), which the company calls an AI gift concierge. Through information provided by consumers about a gift recipient, the software tailors gift recommendations using information gathered by other consumers. The point of the experience was to replicate the in-store experience as true to real life as possible with a concierge that could react and change path in real time, and it appeared to be a success with the company reporting that within two months, 70% of online orders we’re completed using this service.

Voice Assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are now common place in our homes and some of us are taking the leap to order products via voice commands. According to research from the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, 29% of people who own either an Amazon or Google voice-controlled AI device shop via voice and up to 41% plan on doing so in the future. That’s a big chunk of revenue for those who are willing to put some skin in the game. Obviously not all sectors of retail are fit to be gunning for those voice sales. The fashion industry which relies heavily on either instore product experiences or online imagery and written detail are not going to be benefiting largely from voice shopping, whereas small, consistent items such as toothpaste or dishwashing liquid is something such a low investment and such a consistent product that people will generally feel comfortable enough to make the purchase. In saying that it doesn’t mean that the fashion or other industries that wouldn’t benefit from buying through voice won’t benefit from voice at all.

Take in to account returns, it’s one of the biggest hassles with online shopping. Retailers like Stitch Fix have started to build voice in to their return business model, making it faster and easier for consumers to use their product. There’s also the option of feedback; if it’s a matter of just saying a few lines to Alexa, surely more customers are going to be inclined to review a product.

Lastly, let’s look at augmented reality. Social channels like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook have all taken advantage of face changing technology and so are some brands within the beauty sector. Brands such as Sephora and L’Oreal are utilising this technology to help customers “try on” products at home through their app, allowing customers to test shades of lipsticks, eyeliners, etc with the click of a button. Not only does this create an incredible out-of-store experience for consumers that mimics what they’d get in store, but it almost brings a whole new level of experience with customers seeing products in application far clearer than they would if they we’re just testing a patch on their skin in store.

You also have brands like Saint Laurent who when you pay to have your make-up done by a professional in some of their in-store concessions, the artist wears a Go-Pro type recording device that allows you to re-watch the application and recreate the look with the products you’ve bought at home later.

These technological advancements, while impressive in themselves, are just the tip of the iceberg. Currently brands are utilising AI and augmented reality online, but what happens when you bring the technology in-store? There are brands who are started to break ground in this area, but the application possibilities in every industry seem to be almost endless.

Sephora App Sephora App


Laura Coggles

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