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The pandemic-induced surge in online shopping has proven how technology used in retail industry business strategies has helped retail to survive during this time. As retail technology trends post-COVID will continue to emerge, retail businesses must be aware of these trends to remain relevant in the digital age.

Considering by 2023 it is estimated that eCommerce retail purchases will rise from 14.1% to 22%, in addition to Gen Z rising to be the dominant generation in the consumer landscape, it makes sense for retail businesses to be technologically savvy to successfully adapt and grow in the future with digitally-native shoppers.

How Technology is Changing Retail

The impact of change in technology on retail industry consumer behaviour has transformed significantly. Along with avoiding in-store shopping due to health and safety concerns, consumers are turning to various online channels to educate themselves on brands and products, virtually try on products, seek reviews and gain trust in brands, and ultimately buy products. Technology in retail will be integral to providing the new age consumer with a streamline customer experience (CX).

Retail Technology Trends 2021

Let’s take a look at ten of the technology trends that are revolutionizing the retail industry so that you can create a robust strategy for prime CX for your business for 2021 and beyond.

1. Cloud Computing for Streamlined Customer and Internal Communications: Retail businesses are continuing to shift operations to a hybrid cloud structure and implement cloud computing to unify remote-working processes, scale resources, and improve customer experiences while operating in an agile landscape. Cloud models like Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) help to streamline internal interactions with instant messaging, phone and video calling, and email all on the one private network (VPN). Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS) combines customer interactions across multiple channels onto the one cloud platform. This provides customers with fast redirection, response, and resolution time, ultimately enhancing the customer experience.

2. App Development for a Personalised and Convenient User Experience: Software as a Service (SaaS) has seen retail brands launch apps and provide online experiences to engage with the consumer in a more personalised, convenient and modern way. Providing a multi-channel experience is key to constant brand awareness and engagement in the new digital age. Offering rewards to consumers for downloading and using an app is an enticing way for brands to get customers to switch to software that can be updated to reflect the current demands and trends. Once the app is installed on a user’s phone, a brand is always in sight and mind.

ASOS markets its app on desktop and mobile website enticing online users to download to experience a faster browsing and checkout experience.

ASOS shopping app

3. Retailers offering BOPIS ‘Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store’: Retailers are merging two worlds to provide customers with a quick and convenient shopping experience. By offering pick up of purchased items from the brand’s physical locations or alternate pick-up locations, it means customers don’t have to pay or wait for shipping, bringing them a sense of a ‘real-life’ shopping experience. It’s reported that in 2021, 90% of retailers will offer BOPIS as an option on their eCommerce.

‘Click & Collect’ has been essential for grocery stores and alike during the pandemic. Brands like Waitrose have online ordering systems that allow shoppers to buy groceries online and collect from their local Waitrose store.

Waitrose offers Buy Online Pick Up In Store

4. Delivery Improvements: Consumers are well aware of the many brands offering free shipping and same/next day delivery. Although it seems megastores have an advantage over smaller retailers, the smaller retailers are starting to utilize megastores to sell their products to provide the same experience as well as implementing these delivery options on their own eCommerce. Streamlining the supply chain and efficiently managing warehouses and shipping locations is something that cloud computing has also had a major role in improving. Fast delivery of products to customers can help fill the void of an in-person and in-store experience they are unable to have.

UK retail stores like Hobbs London currently provide customers with free delivery for orders over £100 plus free extended returns, while they are unable to shop in-store.

Hobbs London currently provides customers with free delivery

5. Brands Emphasising on Ethics and Values in Marketing: Reports have revealed that 71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that align with their values, and 64% of Gen Zers will pay more for eco-friendly products. Sustainability-focused and morally-conscious brands and marketing are increasingly influential on the behaviour of online browsers. Sharing brand values and sustainability initiatives will engage audiences, establishing an alignment between the brand and its community. Displaying genuineness and altruism online will gain the trust and affinity consumers, leading them to feel more included to support the brand.

Iconic clothing brand Dockers communicates its sustainability initiatives to its audience to bring awareness to the impact fast fashion has on the planet, with water wastage and air pollution. Dockers use sustainably sourced and recycled fibres for clothing and have production techniques that use less water than traditional methods.

Dockers - Brands Emphasising on Ethics and Values in Marketing

6. Omnichannel Experience: An omnichannel experience is when a brand has multiple customer touchpoints integrated, providing customers with personalised and simplified experiences, whether they're browsing in-store or from their phones or desktop. Maintaining brand messaging and ease of communication between all touchpoints including email, website, chatbot, app, social media, phone and in-store remains crucial in retail and eCommerce today and in the future.

Disney is a great example of an excellent omnichannel experience. While fans are unable to visit the Disneyland locations, Disney ensures an impressive all-encompassing experience online. People can watch shows and movies on all devices, use the interactive Disney+ app, plan holidays with the My Disney Experience tool, and enjoy a myriad of other features that are cohesive and offer a rich customer experience.

Disney - Omnichannel Experience

7. Product Tagging: Retailers need to look towards improving online product discoverability and increasing search engine click-through rate. This is where automatic product tagging in retail can help vastly. Automated product tagging helps customers easily browse your products, quickly finding what they’re searching for. Product tags are a set of attributes that add detailed definitions and information to enrich base-level product data such as product title and description. By layering multiple tags per product, with SEO in mind, you can provide your website visitors with a better user experience.

Fashion brands can leverage automatic product tagging with detailed image tagging that improves simple tags like tops, pants, and shoes by adding colours, materials, styles, fits, sizes, and more.

Automatic Product Tagging

8. Social Media Shops: Quick conversion is now more important than ever. By utilizing shopping tools on social media platforms, you can bridge the gap between engagement and conversion, while creating a seamless customer experience. Facebook Shops provides small businesses with the opportunity to sell on its platform with customizable visuals and the ability to choose feature products to display. Brands can communicate with customers via Messenger, Instagram Direct and WhatsApp. Instagram Shops helps brands get discovered in the ‘Explore’ section of the platform, enabling app users to browse selections from their favourite brands and creators, filter by categories, and purchase products all in one place.

Social Media Shops - Instagram Shops

9. Chatbot Platforms: Chatbots are quickly becoming a query preference point as AI creates a more personalised, helpful and conversational experience on websites. 60% of millennials are already using chatbots regularly to purchase products. Automated customer support has also been reported to cut operational costs by up to 30%, making it a cost-effective and efficient tool to implement in retail eCommerce to provide 24/7 customer assistance and satisfaction.

Estee Lauder has implemented live chat services to provide as responsive a service online as what their clientele would experience in-store.

estee lauder - Chatbots

10. Multi-Sensory Shopping Experiences Using AR-Powered Technology: Shopify reported that interactions with products with AR features showed a 94% higher conversion rate than products without AR. Taking advantage of the AR features available online will give consumers a ‘phygital’ (physical and digital) experience – the convenience of online shopping complemented by the luxury of physical aspects such as trying on a product, seeing it in 3D and watching a person using or wearing the product.

Google’s new AR makeup try-on feature is a great example of this multi-sensory experience retailers can now provide online. This allows customers to interact with brands by virtually trying on products, such as different shades of lipstick and eyeshadow. This feature also enables users to watch product tutorials and reviews, and to purchase the products all in one place. This will be a major competitive advantage in 2021, particularly in the beauty and cosmetic industries.

Googles AR makeup tryon feature

Final Thoughts

The retail technology trends of 2021 highlight the consumers’ desires for a personalised, authentic, convenient and speedy shopping experience. Using data analytics and keeping updated on emerging technology and platforms will ensure your retail brand is drawing in its target audience, keeping the brand afloat and flourishing in 2021 and the digital age.

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