How technology is shaping the future of retail

Technology Retail
Six examples of how technology is impacting retail, from virtual fitting rooms to new concepts of fulfilment

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At the Retail Week Live event, held in London in mid-October, there was a great deal of talk about the role technology is playing in shaping the future of the sector. There are many things we take for granted that were once fantastical, futuristic predictions. So, even if some of the trends we have summarized seem a little unlikely right now, maybe one day they will be taken for granted too.

Avatars and mobile phones will bring fitting rooms to shoppers’ homes

Fitness and fashion brand Gymshark is said to be working with a tech startup to develop a virtual fitting room. Speaking at Retail Week Live, Gymshark chief technology officer, John Douglas, explained how a customer’s mobile phone camera will be used to show how items will look on their body

It won’t be able to make you look like a performance athlete, unfortunately. But it might help you pick the right size when you’re ordering new gym clothes. As well as helping to encourage more engagement with the brand, the app should also help reduce return volumes.

It’s the end of the checkout as we know it

Also in London, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, has joined Amazon in the checkout-free shopping game. Tesco’s GetGo store is a one-off at the moment, while the retailer figures out whether shoppers will warm to the idea. 

One shopper did not have a great experience, however. The journalist Andrew Ellson, who writes for the Times, wrote that it took him three hours to complete his visit to the store. It’s no surprise that there will be initial difficulties where new technology is concerned. But shoppers are becoming more and more impatient. Tesco will have to make sure things go smoothly for everyone in the future, otherwise GetGo might become GetGone.

Last Mile is the New Retail 

Online Shoppers don’t want to be simple spectators of the post-purchase journey: they want to choose, interact and, above all, to know where their order is at all times. IDC data shows that 50% of them would only shop from retailers with flexible fulfilment and returns and that 71% of European retailers consider customer experience a key core process to achieve eCommerce operations success. This means that how you receive your order is becoming almost as important as the order itself. 

Dark Stores take the lead for fast Grocery

Originated in the United States with goPuff, the ‘dark store’ model involves setting up local fulfilment centres within cities that prepare only internet grocery orders. ‘Dark stores’ differ from ‘dark warehouses’ in that the latter are unlit, unmanned facilities with automated operations. As for ‘dark kitchens’, they are restaurants without a storefront, offering menus available for delivery exclusively. A Dark Store can also be a former shop turned fulfilment hub, this happened a lot during the harshest lockdowns but, as the situation progressively normalizes and people go back to physical shopping, it looks likely that this model will stay more relevant for perishable on-demand orders than for the average consumer-goods space.  

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The delivery drone returns?

Using drones to make deliveries is an idea that has never really taken off – if you’ll forgive the terrible pun. That hasn’t stopped the idea from being a constant topic of discussion and investment. 

Now, the US pharmacy and health chain, Walgreens is teaming up with Google to trial the first use of drones to drop-off purchases in a major American city. The good people of Dallas Fort Worth in northern Texas could soon be watching their shopping arrive from the air. Unlike past uses of delivery drones, this trial is firmly aimed at testing a mass-market proposition. If it works, others will surely follow.

The rise of the robot

It’s official. The pandemic and the disruption it unleashed, is accelerating the use of supply chain robotics – most notably in China. Three Chinese tech giants of the retail and delivery world – Alibaba, Meituan, and JD.com – will be using at least 2,000 delivery robots within the next year.

Using robots to replace people is nothing new in many industries. Concerns about pandemic safety could be the trigger for using more delivery robots and fewer human couriers in the future. Unlike their fleshy counterparts, delivery robots won’t have to worry about positive test results or social distancing. Similarly, employers won’t have to worry about their workforce being struck down by future waves of Covid or being stuck at home in the event of a lockdown.

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