TOP TECHNOLOGIES CHANGING HOW WE SHOP
Matthew Knight comments on the future of retail.
This article was first published in The Times’ Raconteur supplement.
Technical innovation has created opportunities for retailers and customers as the way goods and services are bought and sold is in constant flux.
The world of retail is constantly changing and much of the change is because new technology is altering the way people shop. “The move towards a seamless retailing experience continues to be a key trend,” says Andrew Long, head of IT strategy at Accenture UK. “Technology is the enabler for this, blurring mobile and online with physical stores.”
The different channels are now combining to become part of a wider, multichannel shopping experience, says Peter Fitzgerald, country sales director at Google. “The old belief that consumers would search and then purchase online no longer stands,” he says. “The customer journey now runs across desktop and mobile, and often involves multi-screening or showrooming.”
Online technical innovation has created new opportunities for both consumers and retailers, with new entrants offering different shopping channels. “YouTube has recently launched click-and-buy video adverts, which will allow consumers to buy products directly from the video ads they are watching,” says Matthew Knight, head of strategic innovation at Carat UK. “Google has also announced that it will introduce a ‘buy button’ to its search result imminently, enabling users to buy products without needing to visit a separate website.”
3D printing is also starting to have an impact, offering the potential for individuals to “print” products in their own homes. “Currently this is limited to certain materials, such as plastics and metals, but in the next three or so years we should see the 3D printing of fabrics,” says Simon Shen, chief executive of 3D printer manufacturer XYZprinting. “This has the potential to completely revolutionise textile, fashion and home interiors retail.”
The mobile channel is also evolving as retailers compete for attention. Omaid Hiwaizi, president, global marketing, at Blippar, points to the use of augmented reality technology. “By effectively bringing the environment and products to life through the lens of a smartphone, retailers can create better experiences for shoppers and gather data to personalise the experience for each individual,” he says.
Mobile technology is infiltrating stores as the boundaries between online and offline blur further. Arming sales staff with laptops, tablets and smartphones can help reduce lost sales due to a lack of stock, and can also help build better relationships with customers, says Ben Dowd, business director at O2. “The experience of buying is becoming just as important as the product being sold,” he says. “Smart retailers are exploring the potential for mobile technology to change fundamentally the way they interact with customers, whether they’re online or on the high street.”