Adapting to the Next Normal in Retail: Technology Everywhere

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The advancements in retail technology have been life-saving for the industry since the COVID-19 pandemic began. As many businesses struggle to stay afloat with newly imposed lockdowns, online shopping, delivery, and AI-powered analytics have come to rescue and can trace the new shape of retail all over the world.

Some of the emerging trends are, in fact, so empowering that 74% of American consumers report they’d like at least one aspect of the retail transformation to carry on after the pandemic ends.

Although coronavirus has been the most pervasive disruption for retail in several decades, companies that embrace recent technological breakthroughs are likely to come out better in the end, growing their sales and providing a higher-quality service to their clients.

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Retail Technology Trends to Meet New Demands

The major innovations in retailing development aim to provide consumers with a safe, often remote shopping experience that brings as much satisfaction as going to a store. Let’s take a look at the key trends and technologies that help companies achieve this goal.

Online Marketplaces and Delivery

The boom in the online retail industry since the beginning of the pandemic has been unprecedented: grocery stores worldwide have seen a 34.8% increase in their online traffic, followed by a 23.6% growth for sports equipment.

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In the U.S., 31% of customers report transitioning to online platforms for restaurant meal ordering, 26% for clothing and household products, and 21% for medicines.

Virtually any sector can benefit from offering a remote shopping option. Among all the new IT industry trends for retail, online shopping is most likely to stick around since it allows customers to browse items without going to a store, and have anything they need delivered to their doorstep. The key features of modern retail apps ensure a smooth and fast ordering, payment, and delivery process.

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Another benefit of online shopping is the possibility to order items without spending time inside a store but opt for curbside pickup instead of delivery. With this option, customers choose the desired store or pickup location, along with a convenient time, and collect their packed and paid-for order themselves.

The curbside pickup option is particularly useful during the pandemic since it eliminates the necessity of contact with store workers or delivery persons.

Touchless Shopping

Limiting contact during physical store visits is no less important than it is with delivery. As lockdown restrictions ease in various parts of the world, retailers prepare to reopen their stores by implementing the latest of retail industry trends: touchless checkout.

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During a typical checkout procedure, customers have to exchange cash with clerks or interact with card readers. In 2021, the danger and hassle of this physical exchange is quickly becoming a thing of the past, with the surge of digital wallets and QR codes.

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Now, clients can simply install the store’s application or scan a code at checkout and pay for their purchase without touching anything but their smartphones.

Besides in-store technology, retailers also focus on expanding their mobile apps’ functionality to discourage customers from touching items in the store. For instance, augmented reality applications allow visitors to point their phone at a piece of clothing and view how it would look on them without actually trying it on.

Such technology greatly helps businesses that are forced to close their fitting rooms or quarantine returned items due to the local COVID-19 conditions.

What Technology Drives Innovation in Retail?

1. Artificial Intelligence for Logistics

The use of AI in retail is incredibly rich in potential, but one area that’s particularly important to retailers in 2021 is effective logistics. When delivery becomes the primary operating mechanism, it’s vital to maintain an optimal delivery time, monitor all couriers, and distribute both vehicles and products across warehouses with maximum efficiency.

Artificial intelligence helps tackle logistical challenges by offering route planning software. These applications take in data about all required stops, drivers’ workloads, vehicle locations, order deadlines, and road conditions to construct the best routes for drivers. They can also modify a route swiftly in case there are order cancellations or traffic jams.

At warehouses, AI technology can improve the distribution of goods by analyzing customers’ purchasing behaviors by location and predicting the demand for each warehouse.

In addition to being incredibly enhancing, the AI potential for logistics is also becoming easier to harness. Eastern Peak and other development companies now offer IoT logistics solutions, complete with hardware and software, along with integration guidance services.

2. Customer Support Chatbots

The AI retail sector also includes customer-oriented solutions, integrated into businesses’ apps or websites. E-commerce chatbots, for instance, can act as virtual assistants to facilitate sales and provide 24/7 customer support.

Bots for online shopping use natural language processing (NLP) to parse customers’ requests or questions—both written and spoken. After identifying the meaning behind a statement, chatbots generate human-like responses that make AI shopping feel more pleasant and real than simply typing in search queries.

Such retail software solutions offer quick and seamless customer support by guiding clients through minor issues. This both reduces resource use for the company and elevates the quality of service, since customers with serious technical difficulties don’t have to wait as long for connecting to an operator.

3. Voice Solutions

Another currently skyrocketing practice for retail app development is voice shopping. While voice search has been around for quite a while, the ongoing advancement of artificial intelligence in retail allows businesses to create more comprehensive, all-encompassing solutions.

Modern digital assistants can perform voice communications and recreate the experience of shopping with a helpful in-store consultant.

They guide customers through the store, notify them of promotions or discounts, suggest items each client might like, and answer any arising questions.

Consumers now can receive comprehensive information about any product’s materials or request to see an item of specific color or size—all through a voice assistant.

For companies, regaining voice communications via technology helps preserve the value of in-store marketing. Customers, on their end, have a personalized hands-free experience that enhances conversion.

4. Data Analytics

Leveraging retail data analytics in 2021 is crucial to knowing your customers and market. The practice uses AI to provide companies with insights into their clients’ buying preferences, effective personalization efforts, marketing forecasts, and competitors’ activity.

Overall, retail business intelligence solutions are incredibly useful to gauge the likely success of new products or innovations and calculate the best strategies moving forward.

5. Cloud Services

While the previously discussed technologies extract useful insights from data and put it to good use, retail cloud technologies are vital for storing and processing it.

Cloud retail solutions enable companies to create networks of connected devices and power their AI solutions with the computational capacity that is impossible to achieve on local machines.

The cloud also helps keep corporate databases orderly and accessible, updates and synchronizes data entries easily, and provides flexible services that can run on any device with a browser.

What Comes Next?

All retail innovations that we’ve discussed share a distinct trait: they’re here to stay. In the post-pandemic world, artificial intelligence solutions, together with smart in-store technology, will continue to evolve, not only perfecting their capabilities but expanding their range.

While technology cannot completely replace the social experience of real-life shopping, it definitely brings new opportunities to the plate. If you’d like to leverage the latest trends in the e-commerce industry and keep up with winning technological advancements, now is the only time to start.

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Paschal Okafor is NaijaTechGuide Team Lead. The article Adapting to the Next Normal in Retail: Technology Everywhere was written by NaijaTechGuide Team. The article was last modified: July 26th, 2021
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