Technological changes have always powerfully shaped the retail landscape—home refrigeration allowed consumers to stock more food items, the automobile helped patrons transport more purchases, and e-commerce introduced shoppers to products they'd never before dreamed of.
With recent innovations such as Endless Aisle and dropshipping, retail practices are continuing to evolve alongside new technologies.
While we can predict impending changes in retail technology based off of current trends, it's more difficult to predict how technologies unrelated to the retail industry might soon be incorporated into retail practices. Here are three technological advances that could drastically impact the future of retail in the coming years.
Voice recognition software
Most people are familiar with Siri or other voice assistants that simplify the task of interacting with smartphones. According to a 2016 Internet Trends report, nearly two-thirds of smartphone users in the United States use voice assistants. With speech recognition software improving, it's becoming more and more efficient to use verbal commands to operate smartphones and other devices, allowing people to use their phones hands-free.
What does this mean for retail? For starters, it means that more and more environments will likely become shopping locations. Just as the Internet expanded the store to the virtual realm, widespread voice assistants will make shopping increasingly accessible in the car, the home, and other off-site venues. Users will be able to ask their voice assistants to answer questions about products and to place orders in real-time. Even sales associates will likely have conversations with electronic third parties, as they become increasingly incorporated into the in-store shopping experience.
Machine learning is what happens when computers learn based on past experience. For example, software that improves its chess game due to success or failure in past matches is partaking in machine learning. Although the term is often used interchangeably with artificial intelligence, machine learning is actually a subset of AI, which includes other concepts such as abstract reasoning.
What are the implications for retail? The big payoff of machine learning for shopping is personalization. The more analytics software learns about customers, the more companies can deliver a hyper-targeted shopping experience based on their past preferences. For example, if a customer tends to browse online in the mornings but make purchases in the evenings, computers can learn to automatically email the customer at the correct time of day with personalized items based on browsing and purchasing history.
Nanotechnology, aka “nanotech,” simply means altering physical structures on a very micro level—specifically, the atomic or molecular level. New products are always being created with nanotechnology. For instance, microfabricated particles are now being inserted into teddy bears to make them more resistant to bacteria. Another big application for nanotechnology has been apparel, with nanoparticles that fight off stains or water.
As clothing becomes increasingly durable and resistant to wear thanks to nanotechnology, the buying cycle may decrease—shoppers may opt for long-lasting, environmentally-friendly clothing over cheaply-produced products that need to be replaced more frequently. As a result, retailers will likely have to adjust their pricing models to accommodate changes in buyer habits. Retailers should also ensure that their marketing messages highlight the durability and consequential environmental benefits of their products. That way, if the buying cycle does decrease, their brand will remain top of mind for consumers looking to make a sustainable purchase.
Staying ahead of the curve
Given the strong possibility that voice recognition software, machine learning, and nanotechnology will have a major impact on retail in the years to come, companies need to start thinking outside the traditional brick-and-mortar box now. Retailers should develop omnichannel strategies that fuse the online and offline experiences to provide a high-tech shopping journey that continues to satisfy their customers.
So, what other trends are booming in retail right now? Dive into our retail trends blogs to find out!