Several new retail technologies are emerging today, and they can make the customer experience more convenient and enjoyable. We'll look at three of these popular trends—the Internet of Things, 3D printing, and augumented/virtual reality—to see how you might incorporate them into your stores in the new year.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to physical objects that are equipped with Internet connections to collect and share data. Refrigerators that let homeowners check the contents from their smartphones, dog collars that also serve as pet trackers, and smart thermostats that can learn user preferences are just three of the innovations hitting households today.
How IoT can impact retail in the near future
Consider smart shelves in brick-and-mortar stores that can track when stock is running low; sales associates can spend less time on inventory management and focus on being brand ambassadors instead. Or, imagine attaching RFID sensors to each product, so that retailers can monitor their journey through every step of the supply chain. The growing demand of the IoT is another sign that today's brick-and-mortar stores need to be just as "plugged in" as any e-commerce website.
Order fulfillment through Amazon Dash
Juniper Research predicts retail spending on IoT technologies will reach $2.5 billion by 2020, but the IoT is already making its mark on shopping behavior. Look at Amazon Dash buttons, for example. These are Wi-Fi-connected buttons that customers can place around their homes. When a patron presses a button, a product is automatically re-ordered. Amazon launched this service in 2015, and according to Forbes, orders surged more than five fold in the last year.
3D printing is a process where a physical object—such as a ceramic cup or a stoneware vase—is reproduced using various materials such as gypsum plaster by a computer printer referencing a design file. The Economist claims that 3D printing will lead to a third industrial revolution because manufacturing will become digital.
How 3D printing can affect retailers in the coming years
Suppliers might become less relevant as retailers create products on demand. A customer might come into a brick-and-mortar store with a particular design file on a flash drive, ready to share it with the sales associate who will print out the product for the patron—much like someone going into an office supply store today to print a chart or report.
On-demand printing with Candylicious
In fact, examples of retail 3D printing already exist. Consider Candylicious, a store in Dubai that sells 3D-printed gummy candy. Customers can visit the store and use an app that allows them to tinker with design elements such as words and shapes. The candy is then made, using all-natural fruit ingredients, in under five minutes.
Virtual and augmented reality
Once seen as nothing more than a sci-fi concept, virtual reality (VR) has become a real possibility through Oculus Rift and other tech systems. Augmented reality (AR) is another growing consumer technology, but don't confuse the two. While VR refers to an immersive simulated reality that the user can engage with through a headset or goggles, AR projects computer-generated elements onto our live, physical environment. The most popular AR example is the widely successful gaming app, Pokémon Go.
How VR and AR can make their mark on future retail
VR could allow customers to virtually try products out. For instance, a shopper might put on a headset to view what furniture would look like in their home. However, VR tech in retail may still be a ways off—it's AR that's a more likely possibility in the next few years. Augmented reality could allow patrons to scan product labels or QR codes, and view product information directly on their smartphones. This creates another channel for retailers to share their brand story.
AR product sampling with Converse
The shoe company Converse has started incorporating augmented reality into their marketing efforts. Using their iPhone AR app, patrons can browse Converse's footwear collection, pick a pair of shoes, and point their phone cameras down to view how those shoes might look on their own feet. Virtual sampling allows customers to interact with products in new and engaging ways.
Retail technology in the new year
There's a whole world of possibilities with these new technologies. Retailers who are constantly considering how they can incorporate new tech into their marketing and sales efforts will have a head start on the competition as these options become more widely accessible.
Looking to tune up your store for the omnichannel age? Find out which retail technology is getting the highest priority as we present the findings from a recent RetailWire survey.
Feature Photo: Alexander Kirch / Shutterstock.com