With this uncertain backdrop in mind, I predict we’ll see an influx of investment when it comes to retail technology in the following areas.
Although we are still waiting for the trigger of Article 50 to begin Britain’s departure from the EU, companies will already be readjusting logistically to prepare for the impact this will have on both business and customers. As a result, I predict we will see widespread international expansion for retailers in Europe, using a central distribution hub so that online business won’t be affected by Brexit. And the flip of this would be for European online businesses to set up a distribution hub in the UK, so as to fulfil UK customer needs without any additional charges.
Retail technology will increasingly revolve around machine learning so as to automate the purchasing process and make online shopping more convenient for the customer. Machine learning technology will ‘learn’ and predict the customer’s most likely next action, preloading pages to speed up browsing, or providing the best channel for them to complete the action effortlessly. As a result, it will play a part in influencing a customer’s buying decisions and paths.
SQLI’s lab is currently working on chat bot retail technology – while it has typically been used in the finance sector, it would now also work very well for retail. Chat bots could, in the future, be installed in the consumer’s home and when they run out of an item the shopper can say “add milk and bread to my basket” and ask, “when can I get my basket delivered?” Retailers such as Amazon – with Amazon Echo – are already implementing this technology and I expect to see this become increasingly mainstream as more consumers grow used to the idea.
More innovations will connect together as Internet of Things really gets underway, for example, car applications will be able to ping notifications to drivers if they approach a store that has promotions on their favourite products. The app will also be able to notify the driver that the car has free spaces available, tapping into the growing need for retailers to provide a convenient customer experience.
In conclusion, 2017 is going to be a tough year for retailers – and bosses seem to know it. B2B technology suppliers will have an equally hard time selling services and products to the penny-pinched retailers and will have to work hard to prove the worth of any services. Technology will need to improve the connected customer experience, working to bridge the gap between the online and the offline experience, providing a convenient, quick and enjoyable path to purchase to encourage brand loyalty and boost the bottom line.
Jason Bramsden is COO and CTO at SQLI.