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’18 Retail Tech Trends: Unlocking a Personalized Experience

Ryan Hall Published 5 Mar 2018

An underlying goal of any business is to solve customers’ issues while simultaneously anticipating the expectations of tomorrow’s end user. Each industry has its own set of unique challenges to accomplish this goal.  With the impact of the Amazon powerhouse and other digital retailers who deliver an unparalleled online shopping experience, retailers are faced with the need to adapt their brick-and-mortar stores even more quickly in order to maintain and grow their customer base. 

With this in mind, I sat down with Sarah Nesland; Extreme’s General Manager of Retail, Transportation and Logistics; to discuss her perspective on the top trends in the retail industry, including how retailers are responding to the “Amazon effect” with increased personalization initiatives and what we can expect in terms of retail technology in the coming months and years. Read our Q&A to find out how brick-and-mortar stores are staying competitive and relevant amid the digital trends shaping the industry today.

What is the number one trend in retail for 2018?

That’s easy: personalization. You can really say this for any industry but for retail in particular, a personalized customer experience is essential to the success of the store. By having an agile Dev ops mentality, which may present itself as increased frequency in delivering new offers, retailers can connect with shoppers across multiple vectors and leave them “wanting more.” When retailers present different or special experiential moments to shoppers, shoppers are more willing to return. One of the most effective ways to do this is through personalization that compliments online engagement practices.  

How can retailers begin to “complement online engagement practices” in their brick-and-mortar stores?

The “Personalization Journey” begins with digitizing the store with smart open infrastructure and layering on simple and pragmatic solutions that leverage key location-based capabilities, which helps provide a personalized guest experience. By collecting contextual analytics from both Wi-Fi and BLE beacon technology, retailers can better understand guest demographics, shopping patterns, personal preferences, and the exact location of shoppers in stores. This enables store associates to better engage with customers face-to-face, improve experiences, optimize workflow and store layout, and increase sales.

Online users get custom ads served to them on virtually every website. Let’s say you added a beach chair to your shopping cart for an upcoming vacation. It’s inevitable that you will immediately be served an ad for related items like a beach towel, umbrella or similar chairs. This might spark the shopper to think, “Oh, I’ve forgotten we need new towels as well,” and then add them to the cart. Now, imagine if this experience could be mirrored in the store.

Using location-based network technologies, a sales associate can determine if a customer has been in the men’s shoe department for a few minutes. He/she can then walk over to ask if the customer needs help finding a style or size. Now, say that the customer didn’t end up buying something after this interaction. They might leave the store and a few minutes later, an email could be sent to his or her mobile device with a coupon for any footwear purchase at the store. In other words, after the shopper leaves the store, the retailer is now able to provide new offers across multiple channels that are all aligned with the customers’ intent around shoes.

Besides location technology, what other technologies do you see emerging in 2018 and beyond?

2018 is the year Electronic Shelf Labeling starts to take off in the U.S. It’s increasing in popularity because it is dynamic and easily updated, enables consistency between online and in-store offers, can enable third-party advertising dollars and saves on print advertisements.

Technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality will also become more prominent. These will allow customers to point their mobile devices at a product and see contextual details on it, like the nutritional information for a wheel of cheese or what wine pairs best with it. AR and VR can also improve engagement with retailers’ loyalty applications.

We’ve been powering autonomous vehicles for years with our mesh networks, but I see robotics, autonomous vehicles and inventory tracking technologies like RFID moving to the forefront particularly as physical stores become major players in the supply chain flow. It’s all about being able to move and track products with very little human oversight.

What does this evolution mean for sales associates? How will their roles change this year?

First, just like the population at large is embracing technology and changing their buying processes, the sales associates will need to become more aligned with technology and will require training to become proficient. Secondly, IT and store operations will have to decouple technology that is often bundled. They will need to think about the tasks, the associates, their skillsets, the asset and the customer in order to assign the right labor patterns at the right time. This will have to happen quickly because people and objects are dynamic. Having a deeper knowledge around analytics, better accuracy around inventory and a more open infrastructure that is able to quickly rationalize data points across more technologies will ultimately improve the workflow of a store. This will also enable shifting staffing objectives and skillsets resulting in improved customer interactions and loyalty, increases in in-store traffic and ultimately, a positive impact on the bottom line.

How does the retail landscape in the U.S. – both among shoppers and retailers – compare to Europe?

There are a few differences between the U.S. and European retail markets. In the U.S., virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Home are popular, but we’re just starting to see them emerge in Europe.

In Europe, there’s also more of a social aspect in retail stores. In order to attract customers, there’s often a coffee shop attached to the store, or some other activity where customers are invited to sit down and take a break during their shopping trip. Some bigger retailers like Target or Nordstrom already do that in the U.S., but it’s not as widespread.

Perhaps the most glaring difference between the markets is in regards to data collection and privacy. In the U.S., Wi-Fi isn’t viewed as something that is private. If you walk into a retail store with your mobile device’s Wi-Fi turned on, the store can collect insights on how much time you spent in the store. In Europe though, especially with the recent GDPR regulations, privacy is crucial. With something like beaconing or Bluetooth technology, customers need to opt-in via an application in order for retailers to collect information.

Looking ahead, how can retailers prepare for the next evolution of emerging retail tech?

Investing in smart, open and programmable network infrastructure is an essential first step in supporting and deploying these emerging technologies. Customers expect a seamless experience between their online and in-store presence with consistent pricing, personalization and offers that acknowledge their loyalty. The retailers that are succeeding have started to gain better insights and understanding of their customers’ profiles, needs and paths to purchase. However, the trick is figuring out how to utilize technology in ways that is engaging instead of invasive.

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