As consumer expectations of experience is continue to rise, retailers grapple with the need to move from digital and physical ‘channels’ to a cohesive ‘ecosystem’. With Amazon setting the bar on convenience and price, it’s widely accepted that if you can’t compete on those grounds, you had better be nailing the experience. We took a look at some of the latest tech attempting to close the gap between digital and physical shopping on show and the implications for retailers.

Voice search is bad news for lesser known brands

Amazon is dominating the voice assistant ‘arms race’. In May, eMarketer estimated Amazon already has 70% of the overall voice market share. Whilst consumers are still getting comfortable with the idea of shopping through voice assistant, the implications for brands are very clear.

When you ask Amazon’s Alexa to place an order for products like “toilet paper”, she’ll recommend just one product. That product will most likely be an Amazon basics product, or an Amazon best seller with high numbers of good reviews and ratings. Apparently, if you ask for any other brands, she’ll actually tell you she’s “run out ideas” – cheeky!

It’s already hard enough for lesser known brands to get on the first page of a Google search, i.e. top ten search results, let alone be THE top result to show up in a voice search. This means it’s going to be ever more important for brands to focus on recall and the brand equity that will give consumers the incentive to deliberately ask for their product.

Personalisation doesn’t have to be hard work

When we talk about personalisation our minds often quickly to go a complex place of AI and machine learning, but we came across a couple of interesting tech co’s making it simple for retailers to shortcut developing inhouse.

Invertex are the makers of an app that aims to make shoe shopping and mass customisation easier than ever. By just taking a photo of your feet, either in store or at home, the app can tells you what size shoe will fit you best, by brand.

Find Mine offers a way for fashion retailers to amp up their ability to build the basket through automated “complete the look” suggestions with other items from your collection. It seemed like a straightforward process of inputting the styling rules consistent with your brand identity and the program does the rest, boasting an average 6% revenue uplift, and is available as a customer-facing website feature and as a staff-facing sales assistant.

You need to be aware of alternate reality, but it’s still early days

On Day 2 we heard from Mark Lore, Walmart President and CEO of Walmart e-commerce US, who said he was bullish on all tech trends, but most of all: voice, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).

We had a play with the Deloitte Digital VR shopping demo which was a pretty cool example of how shopping for products in their “native environment” could be a great immersive experience, e.g. being transported to a mountainside camp site and being able to buy the whole camping gear setup. But the obvious barrier to mass adoption here is the hardware consumers would be required to invest in, let alone the development cost for retailers to deliver it.

On the other side of the spectrum, we also checked out the newly launched Payscout-VISA VR shopping demo which makes use of a Google cardboard piece (US$6) to increase accessibility to customers. But to be frank, the experience was not at all immersive and I was also a little worried my short-sightedness was intensifying by looking at my phone so close to my face. I’d also need to sign up for a VISA credit card to use it.

Whilst great in-roads are being made in VR shopping, I imagine the majority of us will still much prefer to shop on a good old-fashioned website for a while longer. At least until VR gets a little push from the porn industry.

The other bit of tech of note was the newly launched world first interactive AI Hologram concierge by the VNTANA and Satisfi Labs partnership. While it was cool, and might be a fun way to replace the info/navigation kiosk in a shopping centre, I struggled to see why a retailer would put one of these in store when I would argue one of the reasons people still come into store is actually to speak to a real person.

We didn’t see any new AR tech, but we did hear from Mike Festa, Direcor at Wayfair Next, who are investing heavily in this space to allow customers to visualise their purchase in the actual/intended environment. But outside of home that we haven’t seen any applications of AR that solve real world problems yet.

All the fuss about AR and VR is something to be cognisant of because it will probably become a thing in the years to come, but right now there are more fundamental concerns Aussie retailers need to be addressing. CVS Caremark Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer Brian Tilzer gave us a perfect example of how vastly improving the customer experience can be very low tech – some of their most successful initiatives simply leverage the smartphone to address major customer pain points.

Final Thoughts

So that’s a wrap for our coverage of Shop.Org 2017! It was great to see how retailers and tech companies from around the world are tackling the challenge of reinventing retail.

Overall, the conference reaffirmed the need for retailers to have a clear purpose, know their customer and invest in building a strong brand to have any hope of competing in a post-Amazon market. In particular, retailers need to be clear on customer and purpose to effectively navigate all the choices they will need to make around tech adoption and make sure they get the best bang for their buck.

Author Jace Loh

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