Walmart’s recent news is a prime example of how technology is changing retail. The retailer filed two patents which indicate they’re working on building a fully immersive online shopping experience. Using a virtual reality headset, the consumer could browse the shopping aisle, select products, and get orders fulfilled through a fully automated distribution center. While this might seem like a very high-tech, distant future, it’s actually a lot closer to the present than most companies recognize.
Walmart’s patents are an amalgamation of many of today’s innovations. Many companies already use augmented and virtual reality to improve the customer experience. Smart assistants use artificial intelligence to handle customer service through chatbots and voice assistants. Retailers and brands can streamline shipping through the rapid processing of big data. Much of today’s shopping, both online and in the physical world, occurs on consumers’ mobile phones. With these advancements in technology rapidly changing retail, marketers can see a new path to engaging consumers.
Virtual and Augmented Reality Innovation in Marketing
Virtual reality is about placing consumers in a new, digital environment. Augmented reality takes pieces of that digital environment and brings them to the real world. Both AR and VR offer a lot of opportunities to brands who want to enhance their marketing. Here are a few examples.
Target Provides Virtual Try-on With AR
Target has rolled out several augmented reality app and website experiences for two categories that often require in-person selection: furniture and beauty. Consumers can use an app that allows an AR overlay to show how products would look in their home. Whether they’re testing a shade of lipstick or seeing if a dining table fits in their kitchen, the campaign recreates the in-store experience and encourages consumers to make purchases.
Industry Explores Advances in 2D Image Recognition
While 2D image recognition is not technically AR or VR, theoretically the use is the same. Consumers use real-world environments to interact digitally with a retailer or brand. In this case, a consumer would use their phone to take a picture of an item they liked. Then, using an app, they could find similar items available for purchase. While this 2D image recognition marketing is emerging, brands can expect it to become more prevalent in the future.
Cable Network Marketing Campaign Sends Users to Space
National Geographic created an event that is arguably one of the most extensive VR campaigns to date. The network enlisted the services of Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli to help them film a 360° video of the International Space Station. Then, they turned that video into a VR campaign on the National Geographic website that allowed users to experience exactly what Nespoli did while in space.
Additionally, in the third example, the campaign was used as an advertisement for a space-based series. This campaign garnered a lot of attention and guaranteed the renewal of the now popular series by sparking the public’s interest in both space and immersive viewing.
For marketers, augmented reality is a bit more approachable for full-scale campaigns. At the same time, consumers have shown they’re more willing to test out AR versus VR, as AR is typically available on a smartphone. Most VR features require the use of headsets and other components. As technology advances in that sector, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the number of VR users rise. This will drive a need for VR content to include VR marketing.
Artificial Intelligence Sales Assistants Improve Customer Service
Any consumer who has chatted online with a company has likely used the services of a sales bot. Bots can do anything from categorizing basic customer issues to having full, informative conversations. As chatbots become more advanced, they are taking the place of human customer service reps. The critical factor in achieving a natural conversation result from a chatbot is context.
AI assistants are data repositories for millions of different possible situations, but it’s the ability to understand the context of that data that sets them apart. Through AI, these bots are able to interpret the meaning of the customer’s query, even without extremely specific language. For example, they’d know if someone searched the word “knife,” they were looking for kitchen utensils. A more advanced AI bot would decipher that the customer was seeking chef’s knives, and not flatware. Essentially, AI bots can make accurate assumptions, even when the customer says very little.
AI is also something that can increase the use of voice ordering. Voice recognition technology is relatively new, and AI will be needed to better understand natural language. Consumers speak much differently than they write, so an entirely new set of data must be consumed by these devices. While voice ordering has been slow to take off, AI will likely drive increased adoption.
AI is already in heavy use for customer service. About 91% of the top companies in brand recognition and customer satisfaction use AI. These companies have used AI’s power to mimic a natural voice and answer customer questions. This saves them time and resources which they can reallocate for other marketing efforts.
Secure Digital Payment Options Offer Mobile Options
The digital economy has driven a need for safe payment options in cyberspace. Mobile wallets are very popular because they allow consumers to easily carry their payment information without the risk of losing cards or cash. Consumers also want in-app mobile payment options to quickly checkout online. There’s much less physical risk with this form of payment, and it allows consumers to stay organized. However, mobile payments do have limitations.
The biggest hurdle is consumer trust. The consumers that choose to avoid digital payments do so out of security concerns. In fact, “security concerns” are cited as the top reason consumers avoid using emerging tech that requires personal information. By working with established payment options, retailers can process payments while protecting customer data.
Weighing consumers’ desires is also essential, as those demands are trending towards peer-to-peer (P2P) options. Apps like Venmo, PayPal, and Square Cash have high adoption rates as they allow consumers to send money directly to others without entering credit or debit card information. Almost 40% of consumers aged 24-44 have made use of them. This shows us that consumers desire simplicity in their payment options. Simplicity is an apparent trend in all the technology and services consumers seek today.
How Technology Is Changing Retail Delivery Options
Retailers have streamlined the way customers receive their products, as well as drastically shortened delivery times for online orders. Whether consumers get items shipped to their homes or order them for pickup at the store, these delivery options go far beyond overnight shipping. Today, there are a variety of delivery possibilities for consumers to choose from, and most of them are digitally driven.
If a consumer wants something right away, they’ll go to the store to get it. Retailers that recognized this trend now offer the ability to order items online and pick them up in the store. This benefits the retailer by eliminating shipping costs. It also improves the customer experience by allowing them more options if they’re in a hurry.
Consumers are busy and curbside pickup is an option that solves a part of that problem. Many major retailers allow consumers to use an app to purchase items, go to the store where they park in an assigned pickup spot, and receive their order at their vehicle. Target and Walmart have both offered programs like this in limited markets, with plans to expand.
Companies have diversified where they keep their distribution hubs to ensure shorter delivery and lower costs for transport. Through North America, Amazon operates 75 fulfillment centers and 25 sorting centers to ensure they are able to offer reduced shipping by cutting transport costs.
Third-party Delivery Options
Many retailers and restaurants are exploring third-party delivery options through platforms like Postmates and Uber Eats. For brands and restaurants that were traditionally unable to offer delivery, partnering with one of these companies may allow them to expand their offerings without a substantial investment.
This feature is primarily seen through Amazon, and is widely used on the company’s popular smart speakers. Consumers have the option to store payment and shipping information to allow for rapid checkout. This proves to be a sales driver by limiting the steps from discovering an item to making a purchase.
Notably, in order for distribution hubs to remain efficient, large retailers like Amazon must keep extensive data on where items are in-stock, product restock dates, customer returns, estimated delivery dates and more. Maintaining these centers would not be possible without emerging technologies like machine learning, AI, and big data management.
Consumers want products faster, but they don’t want to pay a high cost for these options. Simplified delivery choices like local and curbside pickup, third-party delivery, and one-click ordering offer convenience to consumers without a high price, so expectations are likely to remain high for these services.
How Cans Can Leverage Mobile Apps in the Shopping Aisle
Mobile use in the store has been shown to increase overall in-store consumer purchases. Consumers using their mobile phones in the store may be more receptive to advertising, meaning brands can reach out to them when they’re in a purchase mindset. With mobile shopping apps, like Shopkick, brands become part of the consumer’s shopping trip and keep their products at the top of mind. Any brand with a brick-and-mortar presence should ensure that mobile shopping apps are part of their overall marketing strategy.
Shopping apps can be used to direct consumers to products in the store, even when shelf positions aren’t optimal. With most shopping apps, consumers receive rewards for interacting with products, whether they’re purchasing that product or scanning the UPC. These apps gamify the shopping experience while also boosting engagement by offering rewards for participation.
Rewards can be a great way to engage loyal consumers who typically spend more money with a brand they trust. Most major retailers offer some kind of in-house rewards program, while CPG brands may be less represented. For consumers, the best rewards program is a simple one. Mobile options allow these consumers to store rewards and use them in one easy place.
Brands can also use third-party apps, in conjunction with their own mobile offerings, as a way to reach a new group of consumers. While existing users of a branded app are typically already loyal, users of a shopping app present a new audience to connect with, as a means of growing market share. Those consumers can then be pushed through the sales funnel and directed to the retailer’s branded loyalty program.
Marketers must be familiar with emerging retail technology to reach consumers. Some of this technology has already proven itself by offering better customer experiences and streamlining supply chain issues. For marketers, the future lies in mobile apps. Consumers use them to pay, to discover products in the aisle, receive rewards points, and more. Brands and retailers that understand how technology is changing retail will be best prepared to serve consumer demands and gain their loyalty in the future.