January 8, 2018 20 Retail Experts Unveil Their Predictions for 2018 (I): Tech-Driven Disruption
2017 has been quite a hectic year in the retail sector. It’s definitely been a wake-up call for many retailers who have found themselves struggling to stay relevant in an industry that is constantly being disrupted by shifting consumer trends and technological adoption.
As the new year begins, we decided to find out what is going to shape retail in 2018 and how brick-and-mortars are going to overcome the so-called ‘Retail Apocalypse’, according to experts from around the world.
This is the first part of the two-part retail predictions round-up post, where we asked 20 experts – from top publications like Retail Minded, Total Retail and Retail Insider, among many more – which technology is going to be the main game-changer in the industry this year.
The Technology Disruptors
In terms of technology, we’ve seen a surge in Artificial Intelligence, Voice-Enabled Commerce, Augmented & Virtual Reality, and Visual Recognition.
1) The hottest tech will be Artificial Intelligence
It may not come as a surprise that over half of our respondents said Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to be the hottest technology in 2018. Why?
First and foremost, AI will allow retailers to get to know their customers much better, and in real-time. Using all of the rich data gathered, companies will be able to craft personalized experiences, present real-time offers and suggest custom-tailored recommendations to their shoppers, as they move throughout the path-to-purchase.
“AI will learn about each customer and present them options and special offers customized for them and no one else.” – Jeff Kagan
“We already see that personalized experience is key to driving conversions both digitally and in-store. Machine learning and the ability of our digital devices to learn about the users and their habits and to then curate experiences that they will relate to and enjoy, will have a significant impact on the way we interact with brands and influence our purchasing decisions.” – Khahlil Louisy, BONNE New York
But beyond the experience from the customer’s side, it will also help retailers in their pricing and promotion activities, inventory planning and other strategic decisions.
“AI can help enable retailers to better support their customers in real-time, as well as offer insight to help them make more strategic store decisions such as inventory planning, store marketing and more.” – Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, Retail Minded
“The accuracy of pricing and promotion decisions will continue to improve as more offer engines use AI to enable algorithms. Having said that, the hype about AI is way bigger than the application of it, especially in offline retail.” – Mark Satov, Satov Consultants Inc
“The big change will be when AI is better integrated into the back end of e-commerce to build a better customer experience during the order management, fraud review, picking, packing, delivering and customer support stages of the buying journey.” –
Mike Cassidy, Signifyd
AI will not just aid strategic decisions, but it can also make the best decisions based on the analyzed data through automation systems. Expert Joe Skorupa explains it this way:
“The dazzle of AI for retailers is how it can analyze vast databases in an instant and then determine next best actions. […] So, instead of a retail buyer pulling up reports about competitive pricing or an assortment planner reviewing rules for A, B and C stores, an AI bot can pull reports, review rules, and then take the best recommended action. This will revolutionize many headquarters jobs as we currently know them in retail.” – Joe Skorupa, RIS News
However, as one of the managing partners at Retail Systems Research pointed out, shoppers will not really notice AI, but their relationships and experiences with brands will see a radical improvement.
“I don’t think consumers will really consciously feel the impact of AI. Instead, they’ll find brands they love, who delight them consistently. But behind the scenes, those experiences will be carefully designed and curated – by a machine.” – Nikki Baird, RSR Research
2) Voice-Enabled Commerce will quickly take off
“Quick and easy always wins in retail. Nothing accomplishes it better than voice-enabled commerce.” – Joe Skorupa, RIS News
Experts say voice search has already impacted the way people shop. Currently, leading voice assistant products are Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Although both products are still in their developing phases and their impact in the retailing realm are limited, they’re designed to be tightly integrated with the daily activities of shoppers and have the potential to create unique opportunities for retailers.
“As voice-recognition technologies improve and these products are able to provide convenient, safe, seamless and consistent shopping experiences, there will likely be growth in customer adoption for retail use cases.” – Melissa Campanelli, Total Retail
This Christmas, Amazon Devices had its best holiday yet, “with tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices sold worldwide”, as the company disclosed in a press release. This pretty much sums up the big business potential of this technology.
However, while a personal one-to-one voice conversation with a machine seems like a fast and easy way to make a purchase, experts suggest it may not be able to radically change the way we make bigger purchases that require further research.
“Voice search simplifies purchasing home basics that don’t need research to impact a buying decision and I see busy buyers adopting that time saving convenience even more in 2018.” – Krista Fabregas, FitSmallBusiness.com
According to Joe Skorupa, commodities like packaged food or home delivery of prepared meals from restaurants will be the first to benefit from devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
Yet, for bigger, more serious purchases, there are still privacy concerns that are hindering conversational commerce – at least, for now.
3) Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are set to disrupt
While 2016 was the year of ‘Pokemon Go!’, 2017 has been the year that Augmented Reality (AR) has become a mature, globally available technology.
“The physical and digital worlds are finally coming together, thanks to augmented reality. Shoppers will be able to see substantially more information relating to products under consideration and retailers will be able to capture additional shopper insights.” – Chuck Martin, MediaPost
AR is transforming the customer journey by enabling interactions with the real-world environment, from product visualization to interactive packaging to ads and store banners.
Jasmine Glasheen from Retail Minded gives us a few examples of why we should keep an eye on AR this year:
“All of us in the retail/tech world are talking about how 2018 will be all about automation, but augmented reality is equally exciting and set to redirect the retail customer’s path-to-purchase.
New retailing apps and software follow the path blazed by Ulta and Sephora’s virtual labs. They enable customers to see what a company’s products will look like on, or in their home — giving customers an idea of how the dimensions of a product will fit into their space or on their body, as well as a feel for aesthetic properties such as color, design, etc.” – Jasmine Glasheen, Retail Minded
On the other hand, Virtual Reality is also going to keep growing as more affordable headsets become available in the market. It is still facing a few barriers when it comes to scalability and integration with sales channels in certain retail sectors, but these are slowly diminishing as the technology matures.
“In 2018, we will see more retailers using VR in their retail spaces, as well as VR being used by landlords and others to showcase properties.” – Craig Patterson, Retail Insider
> Read: Virtual vs. Augmented Reality Experiences in Retail to find out more.
Meet our experts
Here are the experts that participated in our survey, in alphabetical order.
|Andrew Busby, Founder & CEO at Retail Reflections United Kingdom|
|Barbara Thau, Contributing Retail Writer, Forbes United States|
|Brian Kilcourse, Managing Partner at RSR Research United States|
|Bob Phibbs, CEO at The Retail Doctor United States|
|Chuck Martin, CEO at Net Future Institute & Editor at MediaPost United States|
|Craig Patterson, Editor-in-Chief, Retail Insider Canada|
|Francesca Nicasio, Content Strategist & Retail Expert at Vend Retail Blog United States|
|Jasmine Glasheen, Writer & Generational Marketer at Retail Minded United States|
|Jeff Kagan, Wireless Analyst, Telecom Analyst, Speaker, Author & Consultant United States|
|Khahlil Louisy, Editor-in-Chief & Creative Director at BONNE New York United States|
|Joe Skorupa, Editorial Director RIS News United States|
|Krista Fabregas, Retail Analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com United States|
|Mark Satov, Founder at Satov Consultants Inc Canada|
|Markus Linder, Co-Founder & CEO at SMARTASSISTANT United States|
|Melissa Campanelli, Editor-in-Chief at Total Retail United States|
|Mike Cassidy, Lead Storyteller at Signifyd United States|
|Natalie Berg, Retail Insights Director at Planet Retail United Kingdom|
|Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, Founder of Retail Minded United States|
|Nikki Baird, Managing Partner at RSR Research United States|
|Renato Müller, Senior Content Strategist at Käfer Studio Brasil|