This guide covers everything you need to know about retail technology. From what it is and future trends to strategy, planning, and implementation.
- What is retail technology?
- Future retail technologies
- Retail technology strategy
- How can retailers implement new technology?
- How can brands implement technology into product displays?
- Get started with a retail technology project
What Is Retail Technology?
Retail technology encompasses the digital solutions that retailers and brands use in-store. Technology can enhance the retail experience for customers while improving efficiency and boosting product sales.
In essence, retail technology drives digital transformation, putting you one step ahead of the competition.
Technology in Retail Stores: The Top 10 Most Used Tech
Technology in retail stores and technology trends in the retail industry are changing the way we do business, no matter your sector.
App payments, facial recognition, click and collect, and interactive displays provide just some of the many opportunities there are for retailers to use technology to enhance their offering.
The result? Technology in retail stores can provide an enhanced consumer experience and boost your bottom line.
Go in-depth: Read Technology in Retail Stores: Top 10 Most Used Tech right now. Looking to the future? Dive into all the new and up-and-coming retail tech trends.
1. Digital signage
Digital signage connects the power of tech with the physical retail experience, creating proven engagement and more effective ways for customers to connect with your products.
You can also use digital signage to streamline a customer’s in-store experience by sharing product information visually and directing customers around your store.
2. Buy online, pick up in-store
A halfway point between e-commerce and in-store experience, ‘buy online, pick up in store’ is increasing exponentially.
It has clear benefits in getting customers into your store and encouraging impulse buys…but it’s only a good shopper experience when it’s well-executed. The process must be seamless and brand-coherent, from online ordering to being in-store.
3. Automated checkout
There’s a very definite increase in demand for automated checkout in retail. The absence of human interaction is much more accepted these days – and it’s also a quicker way to shop.
According to Forbes, 85% of customers said they think automated checkout is faster, and almost half already use automated checkout whenever they shop.
4. Interactive retail displays
Interactive retail displays put you in instant control. They allow you to create compelling experiences for customers in real-time while collecting valuable customer data, such as footfall and engagement with advertising.
Interactive displays are educational yet non-invasive, simple to use, and ensure you’re always connected.
Get connected. Explore interactive retail displays.
5. Interactive kiosk
An interactive kiosk bridges the gap between your online presence and the in-store experience.
Customers can use interactive retail kiosks for anything from finding product information and purchasing to navigating their way around your store and searching your full range.
And it’s not just about an enhanced consumer experience; interactive kiosks can also reduce staff costs, collect customer data, and help increase sales.
6. Endless aisle solution
The endless aisle solution allows customers to go beyond store boundaries, browsing and ordering items that aren’t in stock in-store. This has a double benefit for retailers. It helps to both increase your conversion rates and expand your offering without taking up physical space.
Customers get both the in-store experience and a better product choice – without going to your competitors.
7. Real-time inventory management
Having accurate stock data at your fingertips can help keep you one step ahead. Real-time inventory management effectively manages both stock-flow and forecasting. This ensures you have products in-store when you need them. Which helps stores to cut waste, and allows customers to track stock in real-time, helping them make quicker buying decisions.
8. On-the-spot payments
On-the-spot payments are gathering momentum. They make shopping faster, are convenient for customers, and are a great solution for busy periods.
The numbers are revealing: there were 209 million contactless payments in April 2020, and 519 million in June 2020.
9. Cashierless store
Robotics is changing the face of retail, and being an early adopter can set you apart.
Amazon kick-started the cashierless store in 2018, and since then, retailers like Tesco and Walmart have started using this technology in supermarkets.
Why? Because it’s convenient, quick, and a smoother shopping experience for your customers. There’s less waiting, and that means less frustration.
10. Facial recognition
Facial recognition in retail stores means you can track demographics and understand in detail how customers interact with your store.
You can also use this technology in retail to increase consumer satisfaction. Staff will be able to recognise customers, build a rapport, and provide a more personalised shopping experience.
On a more practical level, it also helps prevent theft.
Future Retail Technologies
When we look back at how far we’ve come over the last couple of decades in terms of digital technology in retail, we can see how it’s completely reshaped the shopping experience and changed customers’ in-store expectations. So, where do we go from here?
Future technology in retail includes the acronyms: VR, AR, AI, IoT – all of which we explore below.
Technology in retail to keep on top of future trends is imperative if you want to stay relevant, profitable, and ahead of your competition. You’ll need to boost your in-store experience to meet evolving and increasingly high customer expectations, while potentially changing up your operating model.
You’ll also need to have an eye on how tech is affecting jobs. It’s estimated that by 2030, technology in retail will affect a third of all tasks in the UK, so retailers need to be prepared to adapt to and develop the skills needed to perform these tasks.
Retail Technology Trends For 2022 & Beyond
Technology trends in the retail industry are quick to evolve and they will shape the industry for the foreseeable future.
In fact, technology in retail has given rise to a very different type of marketing and customer interaction: omnichannel retail.
New retail technology trends mean that retailers can interact with customers through more channels than ever before, including:
- Interactive retail displays
- Social media
- Game consoles
- TV, and much more
So, what are the retail technology trends for 2022 and beyond?
1. Virtual reality (VR)
Virtual reality in retail stores has the power to transform the physical shopping experience and holds huge potential. Global virtual and augmented reality revenue is expected to reach $80 billion by 2025.
While VR is most commonly thought of as something to try in the comfort of your own home, it can actually create a compelling in-store customer experience. VR can positively impact key retail metrics, such as footfall and time spent in-store.
The fact that virtual reality is still pretty new tech means that it can encourage customers in store. When done well, it also increases dwell times and sales.
A good example of virtual reality in retail stores comes from Marks & Spencer, who toured UK cities with a pop-up VR showroom. Customers could drag and drop items from the retailer’s premium LOFT homeware collection to create their ideal living space. This type of immersive experience improves engagement and can help boost repeat business, with customers returning in store for the sheer experience.
2. AI in retail technologies
AI in retail encompasses everything from computer vision and real-time, personalised promotions that help you connect and interact with your customers, to machine learning for stock management and autonomous robots that enable you to optimise your operations.
While it’s not uncommon these days for retailers to use AI in back-end operations and marketing, it’s currently less common in-store. That’s where huge benefits lie.
In-store AI includes:
- Digital signage that changes depending on who’s watching
- Sensors that track how customers move around the store so you can make better cross- and up-selling decisions
- Computer vision that provides data from visual images, enhancing customer experience and strengthening stock management
The benefits of AI in retail include improved demand forecasting, better pricing decisions, and optimised product placement. This means your customers can get the product they want where and when they want it.
3. Augmented reality (AR) shopping
Like VR, AR may not be a new concept, but it is on the rise due to the 5G rollout and new AR apps, which are helping the tech become more accessible. Customers are also on board, with 71% of shoppers saying they would shop more often if they used AR apps, and conversion rates for AR users increasing by 90% in 2020.
Augmented reality shopping can be used in a few different ways:
- Help customers navigate their way through your store so they can find what they’re looking for more quickly
- Personalised, virtual product displays – for example, Ikea customers could virtually place furniture in their homes to see how it looked
- Helps buying decisions – customers of beauty brand Sephora use AR to virtually test makeup
4. Autonomous robots for retail
Using autonomous robots in retail is most common on the factory floor. Recently, we have begun to see them in-store where they can free up staff to concentrate on human, personal interactions. In the US, Giant Foods Stores use robots to clean up spills on the shop floor, and Walmart uses autonomous shelf-scanners to check stock. In airports, robots can answer simple questions.
But it doesn’t stop there.
One of the main advantages of using autonomous robots in retail is that they can combine AI and IoT (Internet of Things) – and they’re mobile. They can analyse product data and customer buying patterns, maintaining on-shelf availability and boosting stock management efficiency.
Other types of robots being trialled in retail include drones, ‘exosuits’ for employees to wear so they can lift heavier items, and robots that can charge electric cars while customers shop.
5. In-store beacon technology
In-store beacon technology uses Bluetooth devices to send notifications to smartphones based on a customer’s location in your store. As long as the customer has your app open on their phone. The types of notifications can include targeted product discounts, exclusive promotions, and reminders.
This type of interactive retail tracks customers as they move around your store. It can also be highly engaging and comes with improved conversion rates and an increased likelihood of purchase.
6. Virtual fitting rooms
Virtual fitting rooms use augmented reality to help customers decide what to buy by virtually trying clothes or beauty products on without touching them. AR places your chosen item over your live image so you can check the fit, size, colour, style, etc.
This technology has become increasingly popular since the pandemic when clothing products saw a decline of over 43% in sales during lockdowns and an understandable hesitancy amongst customers of trying clothes on when retail reopened.
But virtual fitting rooms aren’t confined to the digital space. 71% of customers said they would shop in-store more if it offered AR technology. Standing next to a mirror and holding up an item to see how it looks is massively more convenient and quicker than changing in a fitting room – it also makes customers feel safer than being in a high-touch changing room.
The Future of Shopping
With retail changing faster than ever, a key consideration is how to future-proof your business. While you can’t know for sure what’s going to happen to the industry over the next five or 10 years, a few possibilities look likely.
These are our predictions for the future of shopping in retail:
- Sustainability will be crucial – and no greenwashing allowed. Your actions must back up your words
- You’ll be able to update customers on stock in real-time
- The use of devices in-store will increase
- You’ll have to find (and maximise) your niche in the customer journey
Find out more about the future of shopping and how to future-proof your retail store.
Retail Technology Strategy
Today’s digital-first world and the fourth industrial revolution combine to put many and often competing pressures on retail technology. These pressures include everything from how to create true in-store engagement and getting POS right, to inventory management accuracy.
There’s also a lot of technology used in the retail industry. How do you know what’s going to meet your objectives, drive sales, and boost your bottom line?
That’s where your retail technology strategy comes into play. Understanding the landscape is the starting point, but it’s vital to know your customers. Not just their demographics, but their emotional connection with your products, what they might buy, and when.
From there, a multi-channel (or preferably omnichannel) approach and a formalised retail technology strategy will help you on many levels. They’ll strengthen the in-store experience, connect with your customers where they are, and drive conversions and revenue.
How retail channels have evolved
While retail may seem like a slow-moving beast from the outside, anyone in the industry knows how quickly it’s been changing over the last couple of decades.
From ‘mom and pop shops’ via the department stores of the mid-1800s and the emergence of shopping centres in the 1950s, to today’s multi-channel physical/digital hybrid space, retail channels continue to evolve in new and exciting ways.
Here’s how modern retail channels have evolved:
What’s causing all this change? Right now, it’s customer and tech-driven. Technology means customers can be influencers; they can tell retailers what they want, and leave reviews. This drives brand competition and means consumers expect things like fast and free delivery, and instant, personalised service.
And while consumers generally have a large appetite for ecommerce, brands must have a multi-channel or omnichannel approach to not just survive but provide the best customer experience.
What is multi-channel retailing?
Multi-channel retailing offers customers a variety of channels to buy from you. Including in-store and also from your website, social media, email, marketplaces, and apps.
The advantage of using a multi-channel approach is that you create a cumulative effect, exposing your products to potential customers in different ways and boosting sales by allowing them to buy when, where, and how they want to. You’re basically maximising revenue by offering choice.
The multi-channel retailing approach works best when you use a common strategy across all your channels. This cohesion and consistency provide customers with similar interactions, no matter where that interaction takes place, reinforcing your proposition.
One major challenge of multi-channel retail is that you need to be able to coordinate stock levels across your sales channels in real-time, which can often be an inefficient and time-consuming manual process.
Multi-channel retailing is often mistaken for omnichannel retail, although there’s one distinct difference.
What is omnichannel retail?
Omnichannel retail is similar to multi-channel in that it offers customers a choice of platforms to purchase from. In-store, online, social, apps, etc.
However, instead of working in silos with the product at the centre, omnichannel marketing connects all possible touchpoints and places the customer at the centre, so they can choose their own seamless experience.
Interactive retail and new technologies such as AI and VR play a huge part in omnichannel retail, which aims to follow customers through whichever channel they happen to choose, ultimately being omnipresent.
Omnichannel retailers offer a flawless customer experience that includes:
- Online, in-store or click and collect purchase options
- A shared shopping basket across all channels
- A cross-channel loyalty programme
- The ability to return products using the channel of their choice
- Pricing consistency
Benefits of the omnichannel approach
Customers today expect a seamless experience, exceptional 24/7 service, and personalised communications, no matter the channel. If retailers and brands don’t deliver on these counts, customers will simply go to the nearest competitor.
But it’s not just customers who benefit from this approach.
The omnichannel approach provides deep benefits to retailers, including:
- Driving traffic, conversions, and sales
- Reaching new customers in different channels
- Optimising efficiency
- Improving stock management
- Fostering customer loyalty and repeat business
- Reducing waste
Retailers who use an omnichannel approach and retail technology will thrive, boosting their bottom line and creating customer loyalty.
How to create an omnichannel retail plan
First things first: to build a robust omnichannel retail plan, you must truly understand your customer. Not just who they are or what they do, but what they think and feel, and how they behave (or will behave in the future).
To get to this depth of understanding, retailers must know things like:
- Which platforms your customers use when they purchase
- Buying behaviour
- Purchase pain points
- How they interact with your brand at each touchpoint
- Which devices they use to shop
Only then can you create your plan, which should ultimately result in a seamless, personalised experience for each and every customer.
An omnichannel retail plan should include:
- A map of the customer experience across all channels, including how they interact
- Data-driven decision making – for example, understanding your customers’ pain points will help you create a solution
- Personalised journeys for each customer segment
- Which message works for which channel
- Which retail technology you’ll use
- Internal training to ensure everyone puts your customers at the heart of your operations
The omnichannel retail strategy template
Working from a template will help you organise your omnichannel retail strategy successfully. When you work through a template, keep these tips in mind:
- Focus on personalisation where possible
- Create in-store experiences that make customers want to come back
- Maximise use of interactive retail technology
- Use data to inform all your decisions
- Map the whole customer journey, including all your segments
Examples of omnichannel marketing
There are many examples of companies doing omnichannel marketing really well that retailers can look to for inspiration. Three of our current favourites are:
Starbucks has a rewards app that allows it to seamlessly combine mobile with its in-store experience. Customers can order via the app or their PC, earn rewards that lead to free coffee when they pay with their mobile, and have their order ready in-store – the customer is the centre of this experience, rather than the product.
Oasis has combined its e-commerce, mobile app, and in-store experience into one. When you visit a store, salespeople can give you real-time, up-to-date product information from their hand-held device, which is also a cash register so you can make a purchase from wherever you are in the store. If the item you want is out of stock, they can order it immediately and have it delivered to an address of your choice.
How could Amazon not make this list? They are arguably the reigning monarch of omnichannel marketing. As their customers – because let’s face it, who isn’t? – we can access our accounts not only on the website, but also on the app, Alexa, smartwatches, and in-store. Everything is easy, everything is seamless, and everything is quick. Love them or hate them, Amazon does omnichannel marketing extremely well.
How Can Retailers Implement New Technology?
Are your processes slow or inefficient? Do you spend time (and money) correcting mistakes? Do you receive in-store customer service complaints? If so, it may be time to implement some new technology in your retail store.
Finding the right retail technology (and that might be different for everyone) will streamline operations, minimise errors, and improve your customers’ experience – all of which positively impacts revenue.
Here’s a very brief overview of how to implement new technology in retail:
- Define your objectives
- Choose your tech
- Build a comms plan
- Check and test the tech
- Train your team
- Track and measure results
Inventory and Stock Management
Out-of-stock products cost retailers a lot of money (and reputation) each year. If you don’t have an item in stock, your competitor will. To succeed at omnichannel retailing, you must have accurate, real-time, multi-location inventory and stock tracking software.
Having the right retail technology in place makes it easier to identify stock, handle transfers, ship deliveries to customers, and manage click and collect. Ultimately, this will save you money, reduce waste, improve the customer experience, and do everything just that little bit faster.
Technological advances in inventory and supply chain
Technological advances in inventory management and the supply chain include RFID (radio-frequency identification) to track products and manage stock. The whole process is automated and continually tracked, with a full audit trail of any item at any time.
This results in fewer mistakes, greater accuracy, enhanced service, cost-efficiencies, and improved revenue.
Stock management benefits from the deep insights that AI can provide, such as gleaning data trends to help procurement teams better manage inventory.
IoT devices can improve stock management by keeping track of every product’s exact location, reducing the time it takes to find stock. And because you get data in real-time, you also get accurate information to help you make informed decisions.
Robotic fulfillment warehouses
Automated robots can be used in warehouses for different aspects of fulfillment to help boost productivity, including:
- Picking products
- Transporting products
Blockchain in the supply chain
Blockchain can help you manage your supply chain more effectively by recording all relevant information, such as cost, date, and location, improving traceability and transparency. It can also enable quicker delivery and improve coordination between companies within the supply chain.
Automation in the supply chain
Supply chain automation is the use of retail technology to improve efficiency, connect applications, and streamline processes – resulting in reduced costs, waste, and shortages.
In a survey of retail, manufacturing, and logistics, more than 40% of companies have already acquired or plan to acquire a supply chain automation technology within the next 12 months.
How To Implement Retail Technology Into Your Store
Implementing technology in retail is no small task. The tech itself can be pretty complex, and there are a lot of considerations before you take the leap.
You must have clear objectives, a robust plan, and all stakeholders on board before you embark, but the results you can get from an improved in-store customer experience can vastly outweigh the cost and time you’ll need to put in.
So, where do you start? This is our nine-step plan for implementing retail technology into your store:
- Define your objectives – be clear about what your goals and KPIs are right from the start.
- Decide on the tech that’s right for you – there’s a lot of shiny tech out there, but make sure it fits your outcomes (and your budget).
- Create an internal comms plan – get all stakeholders on the same page.
- Check the tech – make sure it will do everything you need and give you that all-important data.
- Create a roadmap – a simple timescale will give everyone a good overview and an understanding of what they need to do and when.
- Test the tech – before sending it live!
- Train your team – brand new tech needs the proper skills and the right staff to implement it on the ground.
- Have a feedback loop (and use it) – both customers and staff should be able to provide feedback on how the tech is working. If the same feedback keeps coming up, you’ll know it’s time to make changes.
- Track your metrics – stay on top of the data, it can help you make informed decisions and show you where you’re succeeding (and where you might need to make tweaks).
Using Retail Customer Data To Boost Sales
One of the most important things retailers can do to boost sales is to use their data. Retail customer data means you can make better decisions that will contribute to increased profitability, improved customer experiences, and better store performance.
Most retailers have a lot of data – in fact, 81% gather data insights in store. However, only 16% say they’re experts in analysing and then using this data effectively.
So, how do you use this retail customer data?
- Get the right data collection tools – and make sure you know how to maximise them to their full effect
- Focus on the data that matters to you – understanding what will be useful for you to understand will help you take action when you have results
- Make predictions – if you know when your customer bought something, you might be able to predict when and what they might buy next and target them accordingly. For example, if you’re a pet store and a customer buys puppy food, in a few months’ time they may need to buy adult dog food
- Use online and offline data – get a holistic view of online and offline marketing activities will help you build a bigger and better data picture
- Use the data for better inventory management – stay on top of your stock
- Analyse trends – use historical and current data to identify and meet customer trends
How Can Brands Implement Interactive Retail Technology Into Their Product Displays?
Since in-store retail displays form an important part of a brand’s marketing plan, it’s no surprise that they’re using interactive technologies to grab attention and create customer loyalty.
Whether a brand’s aim is to educate, create a personalised experience, or launch a new product, there are some important steps to take:
- Determine your objectives.
- Decide on the tech that’s right for you – it doesn’t have to be complex to make an impact.
- Check and test the tech – no one wants an interactive display they can’t interact with.
- Have a feedback loop (and use it) – whether it’s store staff or customers, knowing how it’s working on the ground means you can change things up if you need to.
- Track your metrics – understanding what works (and what doesn’t) will improve your future displays.
Case in point. Nail company OPI created a digital retail unit that allowed customers to see what the nail colour would look like on their own hands before they made a purchase.
This type of retail technology helped OPI engage shoppers, overcome a barrier to purchase and drive product sales.
Drive Shopper Engagement With Integrated Retail Technology
In-store shoppers no longer simply want to make a transaction – that’s something they can do on your e-commerce site. They want an in-store experience.
And retailers have to give them a brand experience that stands out and makes them want to come back for more. How? Through a combination of retail technology and physical space.
- Integrate the physical & digital space – customers are starting to expect a digital in-store experience, and this gives you the opportunity to boost engagement. Try screens, animations, mobile apps, and even 3D.
- Capture attention – innovate! Forget static displays and create movement in your store to grab and keep customers’ attention, drawing them in (whether they’re in the store or outside).
- Make the best use of space – confined by space or location within the store? Use digital signage, at eye level if possible, that can be monitored and updated in real-time.
- Bring functionality & interactivity to your displays – place your products next to digital displays so customers can touch and feel them, perhaps comparing different products and getting hands-on.
- Make it personal – use augmented and virtual reality technology to immerse customers in the product experience.
How To Create A Unique Product Display
Running out of creative POS ideas? The struggle is real. You need to show off your brand in the best way possible while delighting shoppers with a unique experience and persuading them to purchase.
Appeal to all five senses
Obviously, your product display needs to look great and capture the attention of your target customers. But what about the other senses? Engage customers with sounds by curating a playlist that will appeal to them.
Let them get hands-on with your products, trying them out, comparing them – and increasing the probability they’ll buy. Scent marketing? That works, too. And if you’re a food retailer or supermarket, giving customers a taste of a product is much akin to trying on a new outfit in a clothes store.
Adhere to design theories
Balancing out your in-store displays helps guide customers around your store and understand the layout. If you want to emphasise a particular display, contrasting it with the rest of the store, perhaps through colour, will draw the eye. However, it’s also important to create a sense of unity and cohesion with your brand.
Match it to the store’s theme
Creating a new window display? It has to make sense with the rest of your store’s style and branding.
How To Get Started With A Retail Technology Project
Before you can get near and new technology in retail, it’s important to undertake the following:
Deep dive into your psychometric data
As we’ve mentioned before, getting right into the depths of your customer data is critical before you get started with any retail technology project; not just demographics, but psychometrics.
You need to truly understand shopper intent – why do they buy your products at the time they do? What’s the connection between their motive for making that purchase and your product?
When you understand your customers, you can use that understanding to invest in the retail technology you know that your customers will respond best to – and you’ll be able to customise and personalise it to suit them.
A cost-benefit analysis
So you’ve identified the type of retail technology that you think would be a good fit for your store. At this stage, a cost-benefit analysis is key.
Make sure that your projected outcomes are worth the investment, not just in purchase cost, but in the cost of your and all other stakeholders’ time.
Create a project plan
Like any other project, implementing retail technology needs a robust plan that covers every eventuality and includes contingencies.
Include a timeline, resources, stakeholders, KPIs – and make sure everyone has visibility, including external stakeholders and any agencies involved.
Cover all the technical bases
On a practical level, you’ll need to make sure that your store is set up for the type of retail technology you’ve chosen. Think about things like:
- WiFi needs
- Electrical outlets
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Floor/ceiling space
- Placement of mirrors
Retail technology is here to stay. How will you optimise your stores, create engagement, and drive sales? Get started with your new retail technology solution today.