Consumer behaviour never stops evolving, meaning the pressure is on retailers to keep up, or be left behind the competitors who understand the power of digital innovation. And, in the age of COVID, decreasing attention spans, and increased online shopping, retailers need to be even more mindful of being agile enough and adapt to swift shifts in customers’ habits.
Let’s take a look at the digital trends being embraced by retailers worldwide to attract and retain consumer attention.
Even before COVID hit, online retail was booming. Recent figures show that commerce is growing at a rapid rate all over the globe, and those who don’t invest in online, will be left behind. In fact, by 2040, 95% of all purchases will be via eCommerce, and the world’s largest eCommerce market is China with an eCommerce value of $672 billion in 2017. Likewise, the fastest growth in retail eCommerce between 2018 and 2022 is expected to be in India and Indonesia.
Fewer consumers than ever want to physically visit a store, and even if they do, more of them have already researched what they want to buy online. This means a brand’s shopfront is now its website, and to not have one, a brand is at serious risk of being invisible to the “24/7 consumer”.
Moving forward, eCommerce is not simply “nice to have”, it’s a must for retailers who are serious about attracting and retaining customers and who want to operate profitably by serving the demands of the digitally savvy consumer.
Along with the growth in eCommerce comes a whole raft of technology to enhance and complement this offering. 2020, in particular, has seen a rapidly evolving landscape to include technology such as augmented reality (AR) as retailers look for more tactile ways of attracting customers and giving that physical, tactile in-store experience in a virtual environment.
AR is a live view of a physical real-world environment, which is enhanced by computer-generated input, such as sound, video, graphics, or imagery. Retailers are already using AR to bring their products to life, using features such as Shopify’s 3D models for shoppers who are currently unable to see and touch the products in-store. AR is even being used in stores to enhance offerings and offer an alternative to the “try on” of old, through the use of AR-enabled mirrors and interactive displays.
Almost 70% of consumers expect retailers to launch an AR app within the next six months. Brands like IKEA, Lacoste, American Apparel, Top Shop, Lowe’s, Sephora, among many others, are integrating AR into their online and in-store experiences to enhance their offerings and make online and offline shopping easier and more efficient – not to mention exciting for the consumer.
On top of this, Shopify retailers across a number of industries and regions have integrated AR technology into the in-store experience, as 61% of consumers prefer stores that offer AR experiences, and 40% of them will pay more for a product if they can experience it through AR.
Despite these trends, nearly two-thirds of companies don’t use AR at all as yet. This presents a significant opportunity for forward-thinking retailers to leverage this exciting new technology to enhance the customer experience in more innovative ways.
A natural extension of AR is virtual reality (VR), something more retailers will be using in the future, and which will be powered via the “Spatial Web” and 5G (see more on 5G below).
This kind of technology is almost boundless in its application, and will see consumers attending virtual change rooms from home; trying on entire outfits or a full face of make-up in the blink of an eye; touring venues and restaurants; redesigning entire homes; and appearing in brand advertising, or at holiday locations. The applications for VR in retail are almost limitless.
Both AR and VR will be made possible by the power of 5G. These immersive technologies demand significant amounts of processing power and mobile data transfer.
5G will enhance the speed and responsiveness of wireless networks, with data travelling at a rate of 20 Gbps with latency of one millisecond or lower. Essentially, it will enable masses of data to be transferred in near real-time.
According to Forrester: “5G will speed up the transformation of the retail sector by delivering technology building blocks for frictionless end-to-end experiences.”
5G will transform the brand-customer relationship, bringing brands even more into consumers’ homes through virtual interactions, experiences, and support.
On the back end, 5G will oil the internet-of-things to improve supply chain optimisation, manufacturing, and track-and-trace technology.
It will also be the fuel of the “Spatial Web”, which is a computing environment that exists in three-dimensional space enabled by masses of data – meaning the separation between physical and digital realities will start to blur.
Omni-channel customer experiences
Finally, there’s omni-channel. We all hear about it, but how many of us are achieving it? The customer journey is no longer a linear one, and they seek information from various sources before making any decisions. A wealth of information is now at their fingertips, meaning retailers also have to have a presence wherever consumers are.
Omni-channel means using all available selling channels, not just online. So this means eCommerce, social shopping, pop-ups, in-store, partner sales … the lot.
Importantly, to be truly successful in providing an exceptional omni-channel experience, each separate channel needs to create a cohesive, memorable and consistent brand experience. This means retailers need to be smart about using the right powerful eCommerce solutions that integrate into social selling, and open opportunities to engage with customers across multiple touch-points, in order to create a powerful and authentic connection with customers – at scale.
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