Throughout the past year, the retail industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. Although shoppers are currently flocking back to brick-and-mortar stores, research shows that 43% of U.S. consumers plan to regularly shop online for products they used to buy in stores — something that’s likely to become the norm for many Americans.
With the 2021 holiday shopping season a few months away, it’s clear retailers need to find new and exciting ways to attract shoppers and create an impactful experience that keeps customers engaged. Added technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), computer vision, QR codes and more give retailers the opportunity. Here are four retail tech trends I expect to see during the holiday shopping season:
1. The Rise of Sizing Technology
Today, many smartphones feature poor depth-sensing capabilities, limiting their accuracy for digital measurements and making in-store sizing technology an increasingly important tool for brick-and-mortar retailers. Large brands such as Dickies have recently started embracing this type of technology. Earlier this year, the brand launched a pilot program in China that offered shoppers the perfect fit using an in-store body scanner. Through this, Dickies was able to provide a truly customized fitting room experience while reducing overall costs.
By this upcoming holiday shopping season, I anticipate we’ll see in-store sizing devices in nearly every large retailer — with smaller stores slowly following suit. Whether you’re doing a complete body scan through a smart mirror or measuring your feet with a stationary scanner, sizing technology is a must for any retailer looking to create a truly personalized shopping experience.
2. Increased Personalization with AI and ML
AI and ML are key tools for personalizing the shopping experience and creating a more engaging interaction with customers through tailored customer experiences in-store — such as providing services, unique interactions and making their customers’ lives easier. We see AI being used to help retailers gather data on products that are resonating most with different demographics, allowing them to focus on digital marketing strategies for better targeting.
This November and December, we can expect that these technologies will assist in conversion and basket size due to self-learning algorithms offering suggestions or recommendations. Customers are already used to tapping retailers for support with their purchasing decisions. Soon this information, as well as data from similar consumer’s purchasing history, will be used to provide Netflix-style recommendations on what customers should buy next — perfectly tailored to their specific preferences.
Retailers are already collecting and storing enormous amounts of data on each and every customer. This winter, I foresee retailers leveraging ML and GPS technology to send shoppers tailored text messages as soon as they enter a store that shows them available items they may like, based on previous purchases and online activity, and where to find them.
3. QR Codes are Here to Stay
Thanks to COVID-19, QR codes have become a normal part of everyday life. Whether you’re out to eat or ordering at your local coffee shop, chances are you’re using your smartphone camera to scan a QR code and access the menu. Although this technology has been around for decades, it has long been ignored by a majority of the U.S. population.
Come November, you can expect to see this technology become increasing popular in the retail space. With your average consumer now comfortable with QR codes, this convenient tech will now be the norm for a touch-free way of paying as well as a quick way to access additional product information. For retailers, these trackable codes provide valuable customer data to help feed the ML machine.
4. Computer Vision for Faster Shopping
Computer vision is also changing the retail space. Currently, self-scanning robots are used for inventory and price adjustments, while overhead cameras recognize customers and their behaviors. Looking ahead, we will start to see more cashierless stores where computer vision technology is used as a detection tool to help determine one’s desire to buy a product.
Amazon Go has started experimenting with this technology, where a customer picks an item up off a shelf and is automatically charged when leaving the store. This will speed up customer wait times during the busiest shopping season of the year by eliminating the need for traditional checkout lines and freeing up employees to help customers on the sales floor.
This holiday shopping season, we can expect to see more personalized shopping experiences through added technology, with retailers already knowing what you’re going to buy and recommending those items. As a result, we’ll see lower return rates as consumers will find the right products with the right fit on the first try – solving a billion-dollar retail problem.
Dr. Kumar Rajan is the VP of Software Development at Aetrex, the leader in foot scanning technology, orthotics, and comfort and wellness footwear. As a seasoned executive, he spent more than two decades leading product development and digital transformation at Verizon. At Aetrex, he oversees the Technology Division, which includes working on industry-altering foot scanning technology and integrations. He holds a PH.D. in computer science from The University of Central Florida and an MBA from The Wharton School at UPenn.