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The future of retail is virtually here

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By Kappu Jaykumar

We live in challenging times, facing a pandemic that has fundamentally changed how we live. Settling into this new normal the shopping behaviors of customer have changed and there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way businesses think about serving them. Customers are now tending towards frictionless, contactless transactions and this is likely to continue post the pandemic too.

Contact-less and Channel-less are no longer nice to haves but are becoming the industry norm.

Channel-less experience
Customers today demand a “channel-less “experience where the move between the various touchpoints in their shopping journey irrespective of the channel – in-store, desktop or mobile is consistent and frictionless. The focus is on the customer and their journeys, not the channel, thereby creating valuable and meaningful relationships with them. Combining the interaction of the customer across the various touchpoints be it marketing, website, social media, online forums or customer service, allows the retailers to holistically understand the customer’s needs. AI aided automation tools can help with consolidating the data across the various touchpoints to deliver a relevant, personalized experience for the customers.

For shoppers today, providing a personalized experience is not a luxury rather a necessity. According to a Salesforce survey, 84% of the customers are likely to buy from a brand if they are provided a personalized experience. AI Analytics can help decode customers based on their demography, buying patterns and intent. With this knowledge of the customer, retailers can provide a hyper-personalized experience. Hyper personalization offers customized experiences and communication at an individual customers level.

Contactless immersive experience
Contactless has become more than a buzzword during the pandemic. As customers are looking for safe options to shop, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) can offer customers an immersive and engaging shopping experience from the comfort of their homes.

While retailers have been experimenting with one-off experiences, time is now ripe for innovation around creating a complete journey through AR/VR. With a VR device, customers can virtually walk the aisles of a store. With geotargeting the aisles can be curated with the list of products that the customers prefer. Along with a 360 degree view of the product, all the relevant product information including its reviews can be provided. Integrating voice recognition technology to the mix, customers can request products to be added to their shopping cart. The shopping cart can be checked out using the customer’s wallet. The customer can pick a preferred time and items delivered home using a autonomous/contactless delivery.

While VR opens new possibilities for shopping, the VR devices are still very expensive, cumbersome to use, and not available to everyone. Innovations need to occur in simplifying these devices in the future.

The future
In these interesting times with ever changing customer needs, retailers need to be agile in adapting to the changing environments to thrive. While the pandemic may not last forever, shoppers will continue to seek safe and convenient ways to shop.

(The author is Senior Director – IT, Lowe’s India)

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