What’s in store for retail in 2019?

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While everyone is enjoying the festive season frenzy, and eagerly awaiting the New Year with hope and aspirations, it is time for businesses to retrospect and set objectives for the future. Retail businesses, specifically, are more consumer driven. Therefore, it becomes essential to be intuitively proactive in gearing up for what lies ahead while striving to outperform the previous year.

It’s a given that technology will continue to play a major role in the New Year as it did in 2018 and the years gone by. Being an enabler, and also a disruptor, technology will see itself getting strongly embedded into the very genes of retail businesses and will drive the engine. And this is perfectly evident in the prediction by Gartner analysts who say that retailers’ investment in technology will grow by 3.6% globally in 2019 as customer expectations will put pressure on them to perform.

Further, Gartner mentioned that software would be one of the fastest growing technology expenditures in the retail industry, especially platforms for analytics, mobile applications, digital marketing, e-commerce and Artificial Intelligence (AI) increasingly becoming areas of interest for retail CIOs. By these predictions it is clear that technology will be the driving force for retail businesses in 2019.

The next thing in retail that is set to make the waves in 2019 and the years following would be the rise of brick-and-mortar retailing. As global sales of physical retail went up by 4.8 in 2018 and there were more stores being opened than closed, the trend will seem to continue. Even large online players like Amazon have started their own physical stores or are buying out other stores. As physical stores are evolving and are becoming destinations for experiences and not just limited to transactions, customers will continue to flock to the stores to enjoy these curated experiences.

Eventually, retail is no more about the channel, but it is about the consumer. Ultimately, the integration of technology and the business in the right manner will ensure that customers get what they want while businesses achieve their goals in the New Year 2019.

What is in store for Singles’ Day 2018?

Singles’ Day (11.11) 2018 which will be celebrated on 11 November, will mark the shopping event’s 10th anniversary. It would not be an exaggeration to state that 11.11 has grown much bigger than a commercial fair as is now one of the major annual milestones in China’s cultural calendar, thanks to Alibaba. This year, the company and its partners are gearing up to make this event a phenomenal shopping extravaganza, with sights set on trumping last year’s figures, there is definitely something exciting to look forward to for the shoppers.

 

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During last year’s event, 812 million parcels were delivered and this year the stakes have been raised higher as the prediction for the milestone in 2018 is more than 1 billion parcels. This could pose some serious challenges in terms of logistics and delivery. One of the ways the company is planning to counter those and preparing for the rush is by opening what is said to be the biggest robotic warehouse in China. This new warehouse positioned as an internet of things-powered, “robotic smart warehouse” will have close to 700 automated vehicles.

Another important move to tackle the delivery challenges while trying to cope up with changing demands and offering a better experience is ensuring quick delivery. Hence this year, for the first time, goods ordered during the Singles Day event will be delivered directly from the stores to the customers and in some-cases within minutes. Short-distance delivery services will also be available in more than 280 cities in the country.

This year the event will also be expanding beyond China through Lazada, the Southeast Asia online platform owned by Alibaba. This will prove to be a strategic and inspiring move in an effort to magnify the events footprint and globalize it. Moreover, this event will also witness diversification in a bigger way as it will not only be restricted to purchasing products, but also offer purchase of services.

With all this at play, one thing is sure that Alibaba would be looking to offer a brand new seamless shopping experience by heavily relying on technology such as omni-channel, AI, cloud and so on to provide an online and offline, cross-platform supply-chain solution and enabling them to cut inventory costs, while increasing operating efficiency, especially around 11.11, the busiest season of the year.

As Singles’ Day 2018 is poised to eclipse again this year, it is just a matter time when the figures start coming in and provide a clearer picture of how much more extravagant and successful this year’s event will be.

Applications of AI in Retail

Application of AI driven process in retail will not only help retailers acquire new customers, but also boost repeat business. Increased accuracy in personalized communication to the customers along with tailored recommendations and offers will compel shoppers to strengthen their loyalty as they will begin to associate the retail brand with personalized, relevant experiences. Having realized this, retailers are looking to invest and use AI heavily in this coming year

According to a research, global spending on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in retail is expected to grow nearly fourfold over the next four years, from $2 billion in 2018 to more than $7 billion in 2022. This is expected to happen as retailers look at new avenues to boost their efforts to offer personalized customer experiences. As such, retailers will heavily invest in AI tools that will allow them to differentiate and improve the services they offer to their customers. These tools, ranging from automated marketing platforms that generate tailored and timely offers, to chat-bots or voice assistants that help to provide instant customer service, will be in the radar of retail brands.

Progress in AI and machine learning in the recent years gone by and those to come will be exponential. The combination of AI, cloud, Big Data have already begun the transformation of the retail industry and this will reach new levels in the near future. As AI leverages big data to personalize experiences, retail companies are looking at these applications to garner robust competitive advantages. As per the report, retailers’ spend will be the strongest in the customer service and sentiment analytics area to understand customers’ reactions to the products purchased and the service received, all being possible with the application of AI in analytics. This will prove to be the breakthrough for retailers looking to improve their customer experience.

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AI will also be able to help in actually predicting the purchasing behaviour as well as the needs of in-store customers. This means that sales staff can have this kind of information handy and will therefore have an idea of what a customer is looking to buy before they even ask for help. This will be a huge step in predicting the customers’ needs in advance and being able to serve them aptly thus revolutionizing customer service at the store.

AI driven insights would also be leveraged to not only design new product ranges but also to plan and create marketing and promotional campaigns and offers. Optimizing product pricing and discounting with the help of AI will prove to be beneficial to retailers. Further AI-backed demand forecasting is also increasingly becoming an essential tool for retailers. Understanding customer demand and accurately planning and managing inventory has become critical, especially during mega shopping events such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Singles Day and Chinese New Year. Demand forecasting with the help of AI will definitely empower retailers to be prepared for such big events in advance.

Mentioned above are some of the applications of Artificial Intelligence in the retail business and as time progresses, these applications may get further enhanced and there may be new ones that retailers may want to use and fuse into their businesses to further enhance their customer experience across channels.

What’s on retailers’ minds for 2018?

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At the NRF Big Show 2018, retail executives and leaders share the areas they are going to focus on this year. Here are a few things they are working on:

1) Retailers will continue to strive for providing more personalized digital experiences.

When asked for views, executives from Macy’s, Neiman Marcus Group and The Children’s Place clearly stated that personalization would be a big focus for them in 2018. Macy’s is continuing to focus on personalization according to an executive, “The whole concept of personalization is simply on steroids right now. It’s all about the consumer in that one moment in time. We’re doing anything we can do to connect directly with consumers and make shopping convenient for them.”

Retailers have worked on improving personalization for many years but it all boils down to customer experience. As such, providing great customer experiences in 2018 will be the result of blending technology with a more personalized touch.

2) Connecting online and offline store experiences will remain a major focus.

Leading retailers such as Macy’s and The Children’s Place are still fervent on ‘omni-channel retail’. Macy’s is continuing to see serious growth in the area of “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS). Macy’s executive stated that “physical stores are not going away. Customers will always want the option of coming into the store to try on jeans instead of buying three different sizes online.”

The Children’s Place is also striving towards making it big in digital and using a lot of the omni-channel use cases like BOPIS and ‘Save the Sale’. ‘Save the Sale’ needs store associates to be able to access real-time inventory across the store network. This enables the store associates to address the situation of stock-out and lost sales by helping customers to find their desired item online or at another store location with ease.

3) More retailers will look to leverage voice assistants.

Global Chief eCommerce Officer at Samsonite feels that voice assistants will start taking off in certain categories like consumables. However, categories like fashion may have a harder time to leverage voice. 1-800-Flowers.com having been one of the first retailers to launch an Alexa skill, the CEO & President believes that bots and AI capabilities will enable 1-800-Flowers.com to amplify its personalized experience. He envisions the possibilities, “With voice as the main interface emerging, I think it will bring us back to the retail experience of our first flower shop where we delivered a true 1-to-1 relationship. Voice enables us to have a 1-to-1 relationship with customers on a massive scale.”

4) As artificial intelligence (AI) matures, AI-powered retail applications are gaining adoption.

According to the Global Chief eCommerce Officer at Samsonite, 2018 will be the year that artificial intelligence will have its breakthrough moment. Retailers will start using it to power various parts of the retail and eCommerce experience. 1-800-Flowers.com uses AI to power conversational interfaces like Alexa, Google Assistant and Facebook Messenger, many of which need no human touch at all.

Using AI and its applications in various aspects of retail, retailers are looking to boost their businesses and enhance customer experiences.

5) Personalization, social media and Amazon Marketing Services will be used as acquisition marketing strategies.

The Children’s Place highlighted the importance of personalized marketing strategies. Its personalization strategy began in 2017 when the company hired a data scientist to clean up the customer database. Now that The Children’s Place can connect customer purchases online and in-store, the executive believes that it will aid in making acquisition, engagement and retention strategies more personal,.

Social media also seems to be one of the top marketing priorities for the CEO of Petco. On the flip side, Global Chief eCommerce Officer at Samsonite believes, “Amazon Marketing is going to become as critical to a brand’s marketing strategy as Google and Facebook. Today, Amazon has the return on investment potential of Google Paid Search in 2005 and display ads in 2002.”

Trends that can change the game for retail in future

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It is that time of the year where retail takes the forefront, courtesy the festive and holiday shopping extravaganza created by retail brands to entice shoppers and ring in more sales. And as the year draws to a close with the buzz around the New Year’s curtain raiser, it is time for retailers to peek into the crystal ball of the future and get a preview of the trends that could prove to be the game-changers in the year 2018 and beyond.

Predictions of what lies ahead for retail in 2018 are already doing the rounds and it is no surprise that Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual & Augmented Reality i.e. VR and AR, Internet of Things or IoT, self-checkouts, drone based delivery, and so on, would appear in most lists. The fact of the matter is that these technologies have already begun impacting the retail sector and 2018 will see this impact intensifying multifold. As such, retail businesses must look to invest in some or all of them if necessary to keep up with the trend.

Having said that, going into 2018 most retailers will still need to work on some extremely vital aspects as these will not be mere trends but rather a necessity and benchmarks for customers to pick and choose the brands they would like to associate themselves with.

The 3 important aspects are:

Omni-channel: The top priority for most retailers will be to streamline their businesses in-order to offer a unified omni-channel customer experience. So whether it is adding new channels or  integrating systems, operations, processes or handling supply-chain and omni-channel fulfillment or providing features like click-and-collect & endless aisle, retailers must get it right in omni-channel retail using the right omni-channel retail solutions.

Mobility: Based on the data from the major shopping events in 2017, mobile proved to be a force to reckon with. As mobile shopping has become a new norm, retailers looking to ‘omni-channelize’ their businesses need to integrate this channel seamlessly. Other aspects of mobility such as mobile payments and mobile POS systems would continue to be essential technologies that retailers would need to keenly invest in.

Analytics: The power of big-data analytics is something every industry has recognized and so is the case with retail. However going into 2018, analytics will have to be woven into the fabric of the retail business through the right technology to enable retailers to take important business and strategic decisions as well has help in planning promotions, providing personalization and planning seasons ahead.

Like in 2017, even in the New Year, retail will be customer-driven. Retailers must realize and appreciate the importance of focusing on the customer rather than the products, the channels and other aspects. As such, customer-centricity must run deep down in the DNA of their business to have a Happy and Prosperous New Year 2018!

Internet of Things (IoT) in Retail – Smart Shelves

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The possibilities related to retail have truly been endless – omni-channel, VR, AR, AI, and IoT being some of them. While these may seem like stiff challenges for retailers to implement, they need to recognize the opportunities hidden behind these challenges. These opportunities could impel retailers to explore newer and more efficient avenues to cater to their customers’ needs, to streamline business processes, and to improve bottom lines.

One such opportunity that knocks on the door of retailers is Internet of Things (IoT). It is no more a buzzword, it has gained prominent significance in the retail space. The Internet of things (IoT) is a network of connected devices embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and so on which enable these objects to collect and exchange data. This concept of IoT has many applications depending on the physical devices that are connected and one of the most remarkable applications of IoT in retail is Smart Shelves. As the name suggest, shelves that have been made capable of storing, processing and sharing data are known as smart shelves. They provide with various benefits to the retailers such as:

  1. Easy replenishment: As smart shelves are capable of monitoring data pertaining to the items placed on them, they send real time updates to the retailers so as to enable them to restock the shelves as and when required.
  2. Customer interest identification: The shelves can identify which products are more sought after and which are not by analyzing the data associated with product returns. This also helps retailers in identifying customers’ interests and better manage their inventory.
  3. Tracking misplaced items: There are various instances where items get misplaced, causing a dent to the retailers’ bottom line. Smart shelves can help retailers to curb the problem of misplaced items by alerting them through notifications and allowing them to look into the matter without causing any damage to the sales and the inventory.
  4. Pricing display: An interactive kiosk or LED panel attached to the shelves can really enhance the efficiency of the store as it will allow people to search for the desired product and associated price, promotions and other relevant information without any trouble.

In the modern age of digitalization and tech savvy customers, it is imperative for retailers to identify the points/strategies which can be implemented to improve the overall performance of the business. IoT along with various other techniques such as omni-channel retail and AI can help retailers achieve the desired growth in a short span of time.