Identity-driven retail, discovery-commerce, augmented or mixed reality projections and AI (our friends the chatbots) were all key digital shopping trends at this year’s Wired Retail conference. Here are my top takeaways.
I’ll take the world of visual-culture and discovery-commerce over voice-activated replenishment shopping – thank you. The former feels like a fun Instagram Stories fuelled shopping spree, while the latter sounds like a boring, but necessary automated shopping list. Both have a place in the current online marketplace, but according to the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google, the (near) future of retail will be about marrying both types of shopping behaviours together with a personalised, identity-driven experience.
Personalisation is a huge trend in retail right now. According to Google data, 63% of us expect personalisation when we shop online. 2018 will see more retail brands incorporating recommendation tools into their sites, so that we see better targeted products based on our purchasing and browsing history, says Google’s head of retail, Jeremy Morris.
‘The benefit of cross examining customers’ shopping data is getting an end-to-end view of the online journey – from search words to payment,’ says Morris. He points to how U.S. flash sale site Zuilly uses Google’s machine learning software to analyse shoppers’ online data (‘cookies’), so that it can personalise sales per customer, from over 100 sale events per day.
Personalised retail is naturally led by many of us giving away data about our identity for the sake of convenience. This activity is increasingly wrapped up in services such as Amazon Pay, according to the company’s head of UK Karen Pepper, who says the payment platform that’s linked to your Amazon account is a frictionless alternative for the 75% of people who ‘abandon’ their online shopping basket faced with the prospect of filling in all those tiresome online forms.
‘Knowing who the Amazon customer is, is based on trust. This really comes into its own in our physical in-store pilots,’ says Pepper. For example, at Amazon’s Kindle stores, as customers walk past the screen displays, personalised prices pop-up because the store tech recognises who they are. ‘Much of Amazon’s physical retail strategy is looking at ways to innovate in–store and learn from our customers,’ she says.
The opportunity to integrate frictionless technology into the physical store experience is something that will drive sales in-store for younger generations of shoppers, says Pepper. ‘Millennials want shops that contain technology but they want it to operate seamlessly alongside online.’
‘The need for speed’ is the most important content creation strategy for brands on Facebook, according to Martin Harbech, commerce director at the social media giant. ‘With Millennial consumers racing through Facebook content on their smartphones at the rate of 2.5 seconds per post, average content consumption speeds are getting faster,’ says Harbech. Especially as under-20s consume social media feeds at twice the speed of people over 40. So, brands will need to work even harder to capture our attention – and quickly.
But what makes us stop our constant scrolling? It’s about ‘thumb-stopping’ content that is dependent on a three-second activation rule, according to Facebook. And brands that convey a simple message within a short time span will win. Harbech highlights the recent Mulberry and Facebook Canvas mobile ads as a good example of how to capture browsers’ attention with emotive video that turns into editorial content via a ‘swipe up’ function, which also allows users to ‘shop new arrivals’. ‘This works because it’s discovery, to immersion, to shopping, within seconds.
Augmented retail = blended experiences
Augmented reality technology, and the practice of layering digital imagery over your screen content, has been touted as a trend to watch for the last couple of years. But recently it has been hailed by industry experts as reaching critical mass in 2018.
John Lewis’s chief futurist John Vary described how he is exploring new technology for consumers’ shopping habits in 2030. ‘I want to see what augmented reality (AR) or artificial intelligence (AI) might look like for our customers in 10 years’ time. It’s a case of experimenting with technology that makes our customers’ lives easier,’ says Vary. He wants to build more next generation experiences like the John Lewis Sofa Studio where visitors can play around with the various 3D scale models of sofas and a choice of swatches of fabric embedded with smart label technology to display images of tailored sofa options on-screen. (Ikea – above – and Anthropologie have also jumped on the trend.) He’s also working on a chatbot that takes care of last minute orders and personalised deliveries for Valentine’s Day. ‘By working with tech start-ups, we can create a time-machine for the future.’
AR will play an increasingly important role both in-store and at home, says Google’s Jeremy Morris, who suggests AR will come into its own for ‘blended’ experiences.
For example, we will be able to use AR to navigate a digital shopping list in-store, so ‘this becomes much more about a convenience experience,’ says Morris. AR is already being used by retail brands in China that offer immersive shopping events for a limited time only. Brands are also starting to think about using AR to provide consumers with richer product information across provenance or sustainability messaging in-store. ‘Ultimately AR will become a blending tool for how to bridge the best of online and the best of physical retail in one place,’ he says.
Immersive technology – and where it can go within the fashion industry – is a hot topic with luxury retailers. Brands including Hilfiger, Burberry (top), Swarovski and Dior are using it more and more as a way to engage with customers digitally in-store.
Virtual 3D modelling or ways of projecting holographic images of mannequins has many applications for retail, according to Matthew Drinkwater, head of fashion innovation at FIA, London College of Fashion. He highlighted one such project for a young British fashion brand, Rixo London, that worked with a start-up called HoloMe to create a virtual catwalk show, that can be projected anywhere on demand. Models wearing pieces from the brand’s latest collection were photographed from multiple angles in order to capture a range of ‘virtual’ moves, with the HoloMe software automatically processing all the images to create a lifelike holographic version of the model.
Holographic fashion shows will start to pop up in-stores so that brands can bring the static physical runway show to life – perhaps for a touring live event or for an exclusive in-store promotion. This will also become important for new audiences watching on their screens on demand at home.
AI and our friends the chatbots
SnapTech’s Jenny Griffiths says the more consumers shop on mobiles and mix digital research activity with in-store visits, the more brands will know what we want and when to remind us about ‘forgotten’ purchases.
‘In an age when fashion consumers are searching for products for such varied reasons, there is less likelihood they will get what they really want through human search,’ says Griffiths. This is where our friends the chatbots come in.
Thanks to the wish lists, favourites and digital crumbs we save or unwittingly leave behind each time we browse, retailers can turn to artificial intelligence (AI) to send out mobile notifications that might find us via in-store beacons (think Bluetooth-enabled devices that detect nearby smartphones and send out timely notifications). Soon we might be thanking the bots for messages such as, ‘did you forget you wanted those black studded boots at Topshop? Guess what, you’ve just walked past them and they’re in-stock!’
Bots will come into play for customer service in-store, in changing rooms, when customers want to checkout via fingerprint and retina scanning, says Griffiths. Plus, after-sales care has been overlooked as a useful area where bots will really be able to help via nudges to upsell ‘coordinating’ products. ‘It’s an organic journey powered by tech which has tapped into what you wanted to discover at that moment of time. The future of search isn’t just one defined action on one system. It’s going to be inbuilt into our lives in an inactive, non-creepy way that means we get added value from the exchange.’
With all this happening on our smartphones already, the pace of consumer interactivity with bots is likely to happen faster than we think. It’s starting now, so make them your friend in 2018.
Retail Planner take outs:
Many of 2017’s retail-tech trends will permeate through into 2018 and make our online shopping lives easier – all for the price of some carefully curated personal data. The truth is, we pre-Millennials will have to brace ourselves for even faster paced changes to our digital lives. But with all this designer tech around, there are plentiful opportunities to make brands give us more tailored and personalised products – and that sounds good to me.