By Stuart Ralph, Digital Marketing Executive at tcc global
Innovation is the driving force behind the retail sector. It’s made shopping more convenient, more enjoyable and more cost-effective. Over the last quarter of a century an explosion of technology has completely altered the face of the industry, with the physical and digital components of the retail business becoming more and more symbiotic.
Grocery shoppers are now spending on average £161.3 million a week online, up from £69.2m a week in 2010. But this incredible growth has far from “destroyed” traditional retailers, as commentators over the years have predicted, but enhanced them through the creation of the omnichannel experience.
The future has a voice
Omnichannel retailing has created a seamless shopping experience that links multiple channels, from online, to mobile, to in-store. The adoption of smart speakers and assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa, in many homes has made this experience even easier.
But there are challenges ahead. The Alexa consumer is no longer searching for physical or visual cues—retailers are now learning to redefine themselves in a whole new dimension. The change is happening: Ocado, for instance, launched its own Alexa-enabled app in August 2017, adding to the plethora of channels already offered by the online supermarket.
Automation for the nation
Offering automated services is another way retailers are capitalising as shopper behaviour leans towards a preference for less effort and more convenience. According to a study by Zuora, Inc., 2 million people in the UK are now subscribed to grocery shopping services, with a further 1.3 million subscribed to beauty and grooming services.
Low-emotion purchases – like toilet roll and razors – are the perfect fodder for subscription services, and when integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) technology shopper convenience is amplified. As far back as 2014 Amazon had patented ‘anticipatory shipping’, a method using predictive analytics drawn from big data, to begin delivering packages before the shopper has even placed an order.
As machine learning becomes standard, every word spoken to Alexa or Google Home mined, or every movement of milk in your fridge tracked, marketing will become better optimised and personalised.
Augmenting the in-store experience
While innovation is certainly streamlining the process of online grocery sales, physical bricks and mortar retailing still remains important. This is obvious simply from the fact that the very businesses shaping new experiences online are at the same time creating a physical presence for themselves—as in the case of Amazon Go.
The growth of the “experience” economy has propelled retailers to innovate their in-store offerings alongside their digital ones. Look at Converse’s ‘One Star Hotel’, for instance. The pop-up store in London designed to dazzle shoppers through spectacle, while clearly communicating its brand identity.
Elsewhere, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology is helping to enhance the in-store experience and drive footfall. Recently, we created a Goodness Gang AR experience with Biedronka, one of Europe’s largest grocery retailers. Families hunt around Biedronka stores for the colourful range of Goodness Gang characters – unlocking recipes and educational content as they go – whilst being directed to in-store locations and products that they may not have otherwise considered for their weekly shop. By intertwining the technology with meaningful campaigns or messages such as how to encourage your kids to eat healthily, retailers can also drive long-term behavioural change.
Innovation has taken retailers into exciting new areas, and along the way has altered the shopper experience beyond all recognition. It won’t stop anytime soon. Blockchain looks set to be the next step for forward thinking retailers, with Chinese giant Alibaba leading world enterprise for the number of patents published for the technology. It’ll be fascinating to see the directions in which the industry continues to grow.