New technology drives customer experience and retailer profits
Retail is a dynamic industry, changing rapidly to meet shoppers’ demands and market trends. Retailers need to be constantly on the ball, or risk getting left behind with dwindling profits – and that’s a story we’ve seen all too often recently.
The retailers who survive and thrive are those who run smart operations, those who truly understand their customer’s wants and needs and those who aim to deliver a truly special shopping experience. These successful retailers have another characteristic in common – they are very open to using new technology. They understand that technology can be a massive differentiator – helping them deliver better service and run a more efficient business. They see how technology can help them cut costs, drive profits and stand out from the crowd.
I’ve always been a technophile – I love technology, not for its own sake, but the changes it can deliver. It’s so exciting to see things that even a few years ago we didn’t think possible becoming a reality and then an everyday, accepted way of life. Just when you think we’ve reached the pinnacle of achievement, some smart person or organisation takes yet another step.
So for me, the way in which technology can be applied to retail – to help drive that unquenchable consumer demand for easier, better, faster, smarter – is a really interesting space. I find it challenging and satisfying to discuss and work with retailers on how they can harness the power of technology to deliver engaging customer experiences and generate higher profits.
One of the areas I’ve been watching with interest is visual search. Visual search is a form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) which can ‘read’ visual clues in images and determine what is in that image. So for example, a visual search application could know that a photograph is of Times Square, or the Brooklyn Bridge, and the more pictures it sees of these landmarks, the faster and more accurately it learns to identify them. The implications of this technology are wide-reaching – once the visual search engine has recognised what it can see through the lens, it can trigger a whole range of actions and find supporting information.
When I speak with technology-savvy retailers, they can see the possibilities in terms of customer experience and ultimately driving greater sales. The segments that are most excited about it are those that sell products which are selected primarily on how they look – think clothes, shoes indoor and outdoor furnishings, plants. They see the possibilities in a new way to drive potential clients to their stores, either online or bricks and mortar.
For example, a Julie is keen to make her garden a bit more colourful and sees a beautiful plant in a friend’s garden. With a visual search app, she could find out what the plant is called, see information on the soil and position it likes in the garden and see which garden centres in her area have it in stock. It’s a great experience for Julie, as the shopper, and drives additional business for the garden centre.
I read an interesting blog article by Jaja Liao of Google, who sees visual search technology being valuable in the discount retail market and those fashion stores that sell copies of high fashion items. Shoppers would use an image of a designer garment and, using a visual search app, could find a version that suited their budget.
The intersection of technology and retail is an exciting place to be. Retail offers a very real application of technology and technology brings possibilities that keep retail fresh and interesting.