By Alex Senn, Founder and CEO at Orkiv Retail Solutions

Get ready to explore some unique, powerful and game-changing retail technologies out there being used right now. Along with this, we'll look at how retail technology is impacting the retail industry. From advanced real-time location-relevant services to new ways of exploring social media's prowess with shoppers, this should serve as a benchmark for you. What's important about these platforms, services and technologies is that they actually enhance the customer experience in some significant way. Of course, the goal is to improve the experience and make delivery so smooth, that our customers buy more goods from us. In our search for the best retail technologies, it's important to consider the whole picture when it comes to implementation, usage and effect with customers. So, we have chosen to deliver a list which could be implemented at scale and still deliver positive ROI from doing so.

Because I deal with a lot of retailers, and the particular challenges faced by those retailers, I will provide a perspective that can help automate and accelerate your sales growth, utilizing the technology having an impact today.

To keep up with the constantly changing, wavering and reversing preferences of consumers, you need a way to rapidly adapt and seize a new opportunity. These retail technologies will help you accomplish this. Before taking on a new implementation of a retail technology such as one presented here, be sure your retail business is in a good position to handle the changes. You want to be sure you can easily integrate, upgrade and implement in a timely manner. If not, you may want to consider upgrading your current infrastructure so it can produce results efficiently.

Another thing to certainly be careful of is having the right tracking signals in place to test for effectiveness. This could be anything from a tracking pixel in your website to a specific barcode signal that tracks a given campaign. The key is to understand why the needle is moving and how it can be turned into a large margin improvement. The goal is to utilize the things that work to make you successful at being a retailer, and furthermore, to understand them when they do work.

  1. Augmented/Virtual Reality Showrooming: People are constantly worried they may not be looking their best with an outfit once they receive it if they haven't seen it in person. For this reason, we see more and more subscription services that send a bunch of clothes, and you only pay for what you use. In this new retail age, with virtual reality headsets making a mainstream appearance, you can see the implications this is having. Now, you can release a mobile app, which can be used through a virtual reality headset to view and "try on" clothes in real time, in the comfort of your home. Now, there's no more guessing and only buying. How does this impact you? With this technology, you need to be prepared to make an investment in IT infrastructure. Most likely you will need either an in-store virtual reality experience or you need to offer an upgraded mobile app, which allows the user to scroll your inventory, trying it on "their" body in a virtual world. Yes, it is possible, but it is certainly ahead of the curve and requires resources to do properly. Without this, you are better off choosing other options for the time being and waiting until costs have come down. 

  2. Intelligent Retail Marketing Systems: With more intelligent data systems and architecture in place, it's easier to crunch the numbers and figure out how to best market to people. Keeping simple metrics in place, such as average order value, customer lifetime value and customers acquisition cost, are essential to any business. They are often times tricky to track through offline channels. However, new retail marketing systems like Proximo and others enable the real-time, location-based conversion of customers. By tracking customers purchase behavior and response to location-based incentives, we can offer a much clearer picture of who is responding to your offers, and how much value you are generating from the marketing activity. This goes one step further by predicting when that shopper will be nearby your store and offering them a relevant product offer based on prior purchase or search history. How does this impact you? Data really is king when it comes to retail. Without understanding the numbers there is no way Amazon would be able to offer such relevant and timely offers for their customers. Choose something that accomplishes the same with you. Utilize smarter technology that does all these functions for a fraction of the cost. Implement now and realize benefits for the longer term while understanding customers. 

  3. Retail Stores without Checkout Registers: Who wants to wait for long lines at the registers? Especially during the busy seasons, why would customers put up with this? Well, now they don't have to. It's possible to let customers open your app on their phone, walk into your store, scan a product into their "cart," pay through their phone and walk out the door. No more lines, no more wait and no more theft either. See, the tag contains RFID, which sets off an alarm if it leaves the store without being paid for. When the object gets scanned via the smartphone, it's activated to an account where payment information is stored and used to buy the item. This then turns off the RFID signal when the person walks out the door, ensuring nothing gets stolen again. How does this impact you? This is something to keep an eye on. Something not to stay behind the curve because it is quietly creeping up on us as a preferred alternative for customers to use (as Apple is now using in their “highest dollar margin per square foot” retail stores below). Additionally, this makes the path to purchase a whole lot easier for customers who need to “buy now.”

  1. Social Stores that Sell Automatically: Wouldn't it be great if the items on your shelves reached out and sold themselves to customers passing by? With new technology in places like Macy's, Walmart and Bose, you'll have the ability to tell customers how many people have liked, commented on or purchased from the data being pulled online. It's quite the psychological trick and people are not immune. Putting up high social numbers for a particular item influences customers to purchase on the spot due to its social significance. As of right now, it is in limited usage. However, the technology exists and provides an easier means of accomplishing this task than you think. How does this impact you? You want customers moving through your stores efficiently with no thought about making the purchase other than to purchase. With this in mind, this technology makes the most sense to convince the customer to purchase while they are standing in front of a large “Likes” sign. This can be implemented in small scale or large scale, making it an ideal test technology to begin using almost instantly, with a small bit of technical knowledge needed to make the number appear on the sign.

  2. Automated Warehouses: With so many goods moving to so many destinations, the rise of automation was bound to happen. In this case, the warehouse looks more like an ant hill, with the ants being robots moving pieces around for restocks, fulfillment and more. It's cheaper in the long run, especially for large warehouses. This is made possible in large part because of the software running these retail bots. This is where the hard (and expensive) part of running automated inventory bots. In any case, they can run 24/7 for only upfront (or financed) cost, and nothing else after that. So, with this option in place, demand can be served easier and more efficiently than when you work with inventory restockers. Amazon is already using this technology (as confirmed with their purchase of Kiva Systems). How does this impact you? As a guess, unless you are operating more than 100,000 square feet of space, it may not make sense to implement this sort of technology. This is not to discourage its use, but simply to be realistic about the ROI of this technology. It is already making its impact, but only at the top levels of inventory management.

  3. Subscription Retail: If you've ever heard of or seen Birchbox, you know of the subscription box trend taking over a lot of millennials wardrobes and makeup collections. People love this because of the mystery surrounding it. People love surprises and this delivers on that need. Here, since the inventory is already in-house, all you need is a simple access portal for customers to come to and purchase their preferred box. Some major new retail players have emerged based entirely on this model, and it can be applied to almost any retailer. How does this impact you? This isn't something complicated to test out. It may actually spawn a whole new set of loyal customers to your stores and online store. Additionally, you can generate loyalty and add a new sense of style to your brand, which customers may not have seen recently. Providing this option to customers keeps them intrigued and coming back for more while maintaining more steady cash flows. It's not super expensive to implement and can be tested on a small scale with one store at a time.

  4. Beacons and Location Based Technology: We've heard a lot about beacons in the last two years, with some big players adopting them as a useful way of alerting hyper-local customers. Beacons utilize Bluetooth low energy to detect a device nearby that is using the retailer's app. In this way, a retailer can shoot out an offer to whoever is carrying the device to lure them into the store to make a purchase. It's a great way to "alert" the customer they are passing by, and it has made a difference in the way stores market themselves. Already many major players like Macy's, Target, Nordstrom and others have implemented this technology for tests. How does this impact you? It’s a technology that can boost sales. That being said it should be watched and you should become familiar with it. It has the potential to really sweep over the industry, making everything more personalized, real-time and location based. As you can imagine, having your store alert anyone passing by the door of a special inside could be good for business. This may be why many chains are continuing to expand their tests.

  5. Droids and Drones: While our airways are very slowly filling up with drones, the droids have not yet begun to fill up the roadways. This may be far fetched in looking at this technology, but you can be sure it's coming one way or the other. The economics will make too much sense, so it's a matter of time before the technology reaches the mainstream. This transformation may have already happened if it weren't for regulation stepping up. As we already confirmed with DHL, Amazon, Google and others, the drone wars will be upon us soon. As for droids (robotic vehicles), Volvo has already invested in making autonomous tractor trailers, which will dominate the roadways once we have necessary laws and precautions in place. The cool thing is this technology will work together, to create a near fully automated supply chain. This results in less expensive costs down the line, which will lead to more purchases. How does this impact you? Right now, you surely won’t feel the impact of these technologies as they are not at scale. But, you can be sure they will make their appearance center stage when it finally does emerge with the right regulation and technology in place to make it all happen. Be sure to keep and eye and ear out for news on this subject, as the changes and infrastructure cost, as well as technology, may be a heavy burden. You want to be on the uphill side of this, because once it comes, many who cannot withstand the blow will be out of business soon.

  6. The Rise of Real World Adventure: With the newly released Pokemon Go game breaking all the records for app usage, downloads and play time, it’s a new wave of discovery apps. These are designed to mix the real world with that of an augmented world. This could be something like a retail app, so when consumers look through their phone at a strip mall, they see virtual offers above the store itself, which could be claimed. How does this impact you? It is rarely used, but with a recent craze over Pokemon Go, you can be sure this wave of augmented style discovery will be around for a while. Be sure to “place” your stores on the platforms out there supporting it. If this means setting something up on Pokemon Go, then so be it.

  7. AirBnb for Retailers: We’ve brought this up before, but it’s something that only a select few retailers are participating in. Why does it make sense to do it? New customer segments, new exposure, new revenue sources and easy to test. Try setting up a section of your store and “renting” it out to brands or private label retailers who want to get exposure themselves for doing so. This is a great way to test out which new products could be a good seller for you, as well as driving new sales and revenue channels within the store space itself. How does this impact you? While this is not for every style retailer, it certainly does hold water as a viable option for retailers to test small scale. Invite several brands you think would add a good mix and invite them to set up a "pop-up shop" within your stores. They would initially handle most of their own sales, but the model could be proved out easily at small scale, with which to make the decision to move forward or not.

Through the technologies mentioned herein, you are sure to see some massive disruption coming to the retail environment sooner rather than later. It has already shifted and will continue to reimagine the way commerce happens. Be sure you are ready for it and plan ahead of time to make it happen. The consequences could be dire if these methods aren’t at least on your radar screen.

Alex Senn is the founder and CEO at Orkiv Retail Solutions: A retail technology and automation company which uses real-time location relevant marketing and commerce applications to help retailers stay ahead of the curve, to drive new sales, and to do it with higher customer purchase frequency. Many of these technologies are embedded in the products built at Orkiv.com where we continue to push retail forward.

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