Technology is dramatically changing the retail landscape, but one thing remains the same: Retail is about providing high-quality, engaging experiences for customers. Human customers.
I’m in New York this week for NRF’s (National Retail Federation) annual Retail’s BIG Show, capturing all the industry highlights and key takeways at (as the name suggests) the world’s biggest retail show. One of the discussions at the show today was around how technology is moving in a direction to help humanise the human experience.
Successful retailers are use technology to amplify and enhance the core human element of retail, not replace it, according to NRF. Pioneering companies like ShopStyle, ModiFace, Obsess and Living in Digital Times are deploying the latest technology to draw on essential human qualities, combining the benefits of retail’s past and future.
Retailers now use social media and analytics to extend a sense of intimate, human connection to every person in a national or global audience. Retailers can interact with millions of digital users as though they were meeting person-to-person with each of those potential customers.
“Technology allows brands to connect with consumers in a way that is scalable, yet still authentic. At no other point has it been possible to engage with millions of your consumers all at the same time,” says Marta Jamrozik, co-founder of fashion tech startup CLAIRE. “Consumers can communicate with their favourite brands, provide feedback on products and feel like their opinion is being heard, which ultimately drives a deeper connection between brands and consumers.”
Retailers now design customer engagement to blend the advantages of traditional marketing and the digital world. According to Melissa Davis, vice president and general manager of ShopStyle, a leading fashion shopping search engine, retailers can use social and digital to elevate celebrity from a campaign to a moment-to-moment experience. “Social media, and more specifically that of celebrities or celebrity influencer partners, enables retailers to reach customers in a more casual and intimate fashion that’s typically regarded more favourably by the consumer,” says Davis.
New Tools For Time-Honoured Goals
However, misguided or poorly executed digital engagement creates frustration, especially if it loses the human element. Technology for technology’s sake rarely works, advises Parham Aarabi, co-founder and CEO at beauty-focused augmented reality company ModiFace. “Make sure technology is actually solving a problem. Avoid things that are gimmicky, and aim for things that feel authentic and real.”
Retailers can experiment with new technology, while still maximising the long-standing priority of connecting with customers. The most successful approaches find inventive ways to capitalise on both old and new, augmenting retail’s age-old strengths like the bricks-and-mortar store experience with a streamlined online store experience and digital features. The result is a new, converged retail environment that draws on the best of both worlds.
“Use social media and your website to create experiences. Use your physical store to get customers to try something new — maybe virtual reality or 3D printing,” says Robin Raskin, founder and president at Living in Digital Times, a tech-lifestyle company. She encourages utilising wearables and other devices, “from smartwatches and wearable payment systems that lets you shop from your wrist, to augmented and virtual reality experiences that lets you immerse yourself in a customer experience like trying on makeup or clothing.”
“The human experience is defined by culture, and culture now is more influenced by technology than ever.” Neha Singh – Founder and CEO, Obsess
Whether it’s augmented and virtual reality, wearables or a transformed online and in-store experience, retail leaders agree that the pace of change will only accelerate in 2017.
Neha Singh, founder and CEO of virtual reality fashion shopping platform Obsess, stresses that “the human experience is defined by culture, and culture now is more influenced by technology than ever in human history. Any industry, especially retail, needs to keep up with that changing landscape to stay connected to the customer.”
The coming year could also see a revolution in the industry set off by “the combination of augmented reality and artificial intelligence,” says Aarabi. These powerful capabilities are already seizing online search as an opportunity for customer engagement while also fueling next-gen marketing campaigns. In 2017, these could emerge as critical tools for an unprecedented number of companies.